Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Have you ever read a book and wondered how in the heck it ever made it to publication, never mind publication with a reputable publisher and decent reviews? Mennonite in a Little Black Dress was that book for me.  As a memoir, it was dreadful. The book rambled right and left and around, and never got to the central premise: a Mennonite woman rejects her prim and proper upbringing, becomes an academic, is betrayed by her husband who leaves her for a gay lover, and eventually returns home to heal and reconcile with her past.

That’s the book’s premise, and the blurb that enticed me to buy it. What I read instead was a horrible, catty book in which the author mocks her parents, her upbringing, and everything Mennonite, makes apologies for her bisexual, bipolar, abusive and cheating spouse, acts like a door mat to said abuser, and then slinks back to her parents’ house where all she does is feel estranged from her religious, traditional siblings and her sweet parents.

I don’t mind a memoir that pokes fun at one’s upbringing. Some of the funniest times in life are those experienced in childhood but viewed through a retrospective lens.  Janzen, however, didn’t make me laugh. She made me feel sorry for her parents.

I’m not Mennonite, but count myself lucky to have had Mennonite friends throughout my life.  I don’t stand around making fun of them because they’re excellent cooks, eat “weird” food, or wear skirts all the time. I admire how caring their community is, their close-knit families, and their emphasis on faith, family and community.

I felt no sympathy for anyone in this book except the author’s mother, who is ridiculed right, left and center. Talking about your mother’s flatulence in a memoir isn’t funny. It’s cruel.

I hate giving bad reviews. As a writer myself, I know how it hurts to get a bad review. But honestly, for an English professor to have written and published such a lousy memoir…ugh. Ugh and ugh.

Skip this book. I really wish I did.

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