For July, Read It & Steep met to discuss Rhoda Janzen’s memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. Janzen’s memoir starts when her husband of fifteen years leaves her for a guy named Bob that he met on gay.com. The same week, Janzen is seriously injured in a car accident. The aftermath sees her moving back into her parents’ Mennonite home.
The Steepers who joined in the discussion (both physically and electronically) agreed that we felt a little mislead by Janzen’s premise, where we were led to believe that her husband’s homosexual defection was out of left field. Throughout her memoir, the reader comes to find that the relationship had not ever been stable. The couple had even divorced for a time and had separated several times before the penultimate break-up. Janzen even finally admits (quite a ways in) that she was aware of her husband’s bisexuality before they were married.
I think that Steeper George puts it best when he says, “Rhoda is shocked and devastated and seems very bitter. Is this memoir her ‘catharsis’ for her failed marriage, or is it an attempt to get back at Nick?” We all agreed that Janzen spends so much time repeating how her husband left her … for a guy named Bob . . . that he met on gay.com, that all it really does is make her sound terribly bitter. The best parts of the memoir are the parts that she steps aside from her disastrous marriage and tells about her family. Some of us felt that Janzen thinks she’s a bit funnier than she actually is … I joked that I could almost hear her laughing at her own wit, but the funniest parts of the memoir are when she tells about her hysterical mother or her crazy sisters-in-law. Tales of how her mother shares disgusting tales of her nursing patients at the dinner table were often laugh out loud.
Read It & Steep seems to have adopted the motto, “Horrors! Horrors!” ever since Angela wrote it on the white board for Doctor Zhivago and we agreed that Mrs. Janzen loved to share the Horrors! Horrors! of nursing.Some of the most genuine and fun parts of this work come when Rhoda discusses how being raised Mennonite has affected her thought processes. Early on (page 54) she tells how she and her sister believed that any man not Mennonite was a potential serial killer (I’d like to contest that any person anywhere is a potential serial killer, but I’m weird). Rhoda tells how, as a young woman, a neighbor invited her for donuts to “scarf” via a note on her door. She scoffs at the idea, thinking that the young man is clearly a rapist and a murderer. This opened an amusing conversation among the ladies of Read It & Steep about how we would (and do) react to being hit on. Many of us agreed that we would have been a little creeped out by that date invite too … except for Steeper Kristin who exclaimed, “I would totally have gone for donuts with that guy!” So, other than Kristin, we agreed that even non-Mennonite girls often worry about the guys that hit on them being potential serial killers.
Final thoughts on Mennonite in a Little Black Dress from the Steepers: some of us liked it well enough, some found it witty and moving, some felt that maybe she was trying too hard or that she harped a bit too much on a guy that clearly wasn’t worth her time. Most of us agreed at least that it was a quick and easy read that wasn’t terribly mentally taxing. Steeper George said, “I don’t think this work is a literary classic, but I enjoyed it, especially some of her descriptions of a number of her characters ‘pubic zones.’” Gotta admit, her sister-in-law exposing her crotch without warning was pretty funny. We all loved when Kristin said, “I kinda nothinged this book.” In other words, she had no strong reactions either way, which I, personally, agreed with. I’ll say this for Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, it did make me find some great Mennonite recipes … though not the ones that Janzen included in the book.