Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Homeby Rhoda Janzen is a sad story. It’s a memoir wrapped around one moment: When her bipolar husband leaves her for Bob from Gay.com.
While draped in sadness, the book is not a complete downer. Her marriage reads like a nightmare where she lost herself in the depths of supporting and tip toeing around her husband.
While Janzen does have moments of peace and recovery, the book is penned less than three years after the split. Is it enough perspective to look back on events? I think so, though the theme of unhappiness and regret weighs on the book, as it should. Break ups are rough. I’m still bearing the aftershocks of a bad one from almost three years ago. Janzen’s marriage lasted 15 years, and obviously didn’t end amicably.
The best parts are when Janzen writes about her parents, who are, as the title suggests, Mennonite (Janzen is no longer a strict member). These bits reminded me of growing up Catholic, a childhood I’ve revisited over the last few months as I wrote a long article involving New Jersey’s Catholic Church for a non-church audience. Granted, Catholicism is not the same kind of minority religious group as Mennonite (42 percent of New Jersey is Catholic), but growing up inside any sort of religious practice brings its quirks and oddities that your non-religious friends find strange. I found this out when I switched to public school in seventh grade. People didn’t go to church on Sunday? Really? And some people might think the stations of the cross are gory? What could possibly be gory about nailing a human being to a cross for three hours?
Like Janzen, I’ve left the church of my childhood so the feelings of longing for the traditions, and distance from a religion that seems so out of step with time hit home too.
My friend Joy asked me today what I was reading, and if I’d recommend it. I would this book. It’s a little long and meandering, but most of the places Janzen winds up are worth reading. And if you grew up inside a religious family? It’ll be amusing, illuminating and maybe a trip down memory lane.