Rhoda Janzen’s memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, is a heartfelt and hilarious read. 2005 is not a good year for Rhoda, yet she manages to pull herself from the mess and emerge anew. Her husband Nick leaves her for a man on Gay.com and she gets in a life threatening car accident soon after. Living in a huge, beachfront home she cannot afford on her academics salary, she returns home to her Mennonite family to recover both emotionally and physically. Although Rhoda does not follow the Mennonite way of life any longer, but she looks back and fondly reflects on her upbringing and the lessons learned.
Rhoda’s mother, the overly positive, devout and straight to the point Mary, is a nurse and family cheerleader. The reader is filled in on hilarious stories such as Rhoda’s conservative elastic waistband pants that she wore throughout high school and her traditional Mennonite lunches that filled the whole lunchroom with their stench once removed from the wax paper. Rhoda’s father, Si, a leader in the community, is gruff yet lovable, and is the strength of the family. The interaction and banter between these two is definitely a highlight of the memoir. The Mennonite community is a tight knit one, which Rhoda remembers as she finds herself dating, being thrown into awkward situations, and answering millions of questions from sympathetic and nosy sister-in-laws and neighbors.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a feel good read without being cheesy or melodramatic. Janzen’s humor adds to the memoir’s appeal as do her real life portraits of the people who mean the most to her. The lessons she learns and remembers along the way aid her renewal and these lessons and stories can be used by anyone looking for a lift. Janzen is straightforward with her feelings and emotions and I found myself cheering for her in all situations. Nothing is more inspiring than someone who can overcome massive obstacles and changes to emerge triumphant. Janzen is proof that it can happen.
Lauren Kirk is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to working on her own personal writing, editing Messy Magazine, and writing for multiple sites, Lauren is also currently pursuing her MFA in English. More of her work can be found at : messymagazine.org and goldiesays.wordpress.com