Change. I've learned to embrace it, ride it out til the end. Sometimes I'm kicking and screaming, other times weeping with my eyes clinched tight. Once in awhile I ride like a dog in a car, head out the window snorting what life has to offer. Mother to young adult children, a marriage of thirty years, and a desert to mountain to valley waltz with God have shaped me into someone I never imagined I'd be. Life is short and I want to live it. Tears, sighs, laughter and change. Every morsel granted to me. Scrambled, shaken or stirred.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Serials and Scenarios ~ Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
A hilarious and moving memoir—in the spirit of Anne Lamott and Nora Ephron—about a woman who returns home to her close-knit Mennonite family after a personal crisis
Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her brilliant husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on Gay.com, but that same week a car accident left her with serious injuries. What was a gal to do? Rhoda packed her bags and went home. This wasn’t just any home, though. This was a Mennonite home. While Rhoda had long ventured out on her own spiritual path, the conservative community welcomed her back with open arms and offbeat advice. (Rhoda’s good-natured mother suggested she date her first cousin—he owned a tractor, see.) It is in this safe place that Rhoda can come to terms with her failed marriage; her desire, as a young woman, to leave her sheltered world behind; and the choices that both freed and entrapped her.
Written with wry humor and huge personality—and tackling faith, love, family, and aging—Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is an immensely moving memoir of healing, certain to touch anyone who has ever had to look homeward in order to move ahead.
After seeing People Magazine's write-up on this little memoir I thought it would be right up my alley. When, a few days later, I was offered an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) for review I jumped at the chance.
I love quirky writing. I am also intrigued by a simpler life. Not simple as easy, but simple as less complicated. I also thought I was a fan of memoirs written by quirky and interesting women. But I've read a handful of memoirs this year and I've been disappointed more than not.
Rhoda is a talented lady. I wish I had the grammatic grasp that she does, that I was capable of her wordsmithery. But...I tend to like to get lost in a story, not be reminded of who is writing it. And I couldn't help feeling a bit intimidated by her word talents, and her PhD, and her advanced knowledge. Her chapters were bits of memory woven through near and distant past and near and distant present and sometimes those memories didn't always flow easily. I often had to stop and rewind to get the timing established.
Rhoda has my sympathy for the life she has had to endure, a debilitating car accident within a week of being abandoned by her husband, followed by financial difficulties and the need to go "home" to heal. I appreciate that she attempted to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing.
I also understand fleeing from the religious persecution and suffocation that she felt growing up in her tight-knit community. I, too, ran far away from my Baptist upbringing and invited a bunch of natural consequences into my life. I, too, considered my parents, my church, my white-haired, lightning-flinging, angry God, and my peers as life-hinderers or fun-haters. But there came a time when I had to own up to the fact that I chose to see those people, that God, in the light of being life-ruiners. After all, I was the one who was either too afraid to take what I wanted or too greedy, grabbing more than what I should have. I actually, in all the gusto I grabbed, became my own life-ruiner and God was merciful enough to help me put the pieces back together again. I'm not saying Rhoda is laying all the blame on those folks for much of her own bents, quirks and life struggles, but I detected the scent of victimization coming from her story and it tested my patience.
I recently read another "humorous" memoir about growing up in the church and felt the same struggle with the other story I felt throughout Rhoda's journey, the concern that some well-meaning, very misunderstood people may have been wounded by the women who wrote about their perception of facts. I hope her words haven't caused more problems.
Did I laugh at some scenes? Absolutely. There were some truly charming, quirky moments. Did I enjoy the few little bits and pieces I learned about the Mennonite culture? You bet and would have loved to share more of those moments. Content warning...if you think this is about the Mennonite culture, it's not. It's about the Mennonite upbringing of one woman. And there is very little day-to-day detail of that type of life. There are also some f-bombs and interesting discussions about hairy women and sexual situations that may make for squirmy reading for some of you.
I hope Rhoda finds the spiritual north that she's looking for. I hope she puts her well-educated intellect to work digging for the truth beyond the misshaping and mishandling of imperfect humanity.