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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 45.
- Review Date: 2009-07-13
- Reviewer: Staff
At first, the worst week of Janzen's life—she gets into a debilitating car wreck right after her husband leaves her for a guy he met on the Internet and saddles her with a mortgage she can't afford—seems to come out of nowhere, but the disaster's long buildup becomes clearer as she opens herself up. Her 15-year relationship with Nick had always been punctuated by manic outbursts and verbally abusive behavior, so recognizing her co-dependent role in their marriage becomes an important part of Janzen's recovery (even as she tweaks the 12 steps just a bit). The healing is further assisted by her decision to move back in with her Mennonite parents, prompting her to look at her childhood religion with fresh, twinkling eyes. (She provides an appendix for those unfamiliar with Mennonite culture, as well as a list of “shame-based foods” from hot potato salad to borscht.) Janzen is always ready to gently turn the humor back on herself, though, and women will immediately warm to the self-deprecating honesty with which she describes the efforts of friends and family to help her re-establish her emotional well-being. (Oct.)
Turns out, you can go home again
Rhoda Janzen was having a really bad year. Following her recovery from a hysterectomy, Janzen’s handsome, charismatic, but mercurial husband of 15 years abruptly left her for “Bob the Guy from Gay.com,” leaving her with conflicted feelings—and an expensive lakefront home she couldn’t afford. Just days later, Janzen was involved in a crippling car accident. What was this sophisticated, confident woman in her early 40s to do? With a six-month sabbatical scheduled, Janzen made a most unexpected choice—to head back home, into the welcoming arms of the Mennonite family and community she thought she had nothing in common with.
Janzen’s period of healing—in both body and spirit—forms the backdrop of her memoir, as she utilizes her quasi-outsider perspective to reflect on her own story of growing up Mennonite (and the social ostracism that sometimes resulted), on her often troubled marriage and on her sometimes strained relationships with her siblings. Even as she affectionately pokes fun at such things as her father’s bold demands and her mother’s unflaggingly earnest optimism, Janzen reflects on how her Mennonite upbringing might have affected her own relationships and on how she’s managed to incorporate the cabbage- and starch-laden cuisine of her youth into her cosmopolitan, foodie lifestyle.
Readers will find themselves laughing out loud at Janzen’s wry commentary on themes that shouldn’t really be funny at all. The playful humor is balanced, however, with genuine thoughtfulness, especially as Janzen reconnects with childhood companions and reflects on how different her own life might have been, had she chosen to remain in the Mennonite community instead of embracing an intellectual life. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress will resonate with any reader who has ever thought about how such choices shape our futures, or with anyone who has struggled to recapture faith—in God, in other people or in oneself.
Norah Piehl is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area.