Although my chosen poison is anything lit by gaslight*, every now and then I fall into a memoir and come out blinking on the other side, feeling as if I’ve traveled the length and breadth of another’s experience. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, though, was not that book. Her experience– growing up in a Mennonite family–was the closest equivalent to my childhood in a fundamental Baptist family that I’ve come across.
“Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Ship Ahoy” over breakfast? check. (The “Ship Ahoy” video is from the college that I graduated from. Awesome.) Embarrassingly long khaki and denim skirts? check. Absolute terror of the opposite gender (without really knowing anything at all about sex)? check. Prohibitions on co-ed exercise, dance, swimsuits and jeans? check.
Janzen, though, has infinitely more grace about her past than I’ve been able to muster. After a stunningly devastating chain of events, she retreats for a few months to her family home; her observations are a blend of the complete confidence of an insider with the outsider perspective of advanced education and extended absence. She’s somehow overcome–or doesn’t resent–the past (one never gets the impression that she was all that scarred by it, rather, that it was just a somewhat unusual origin story) and is able to be objective about the strengths and foibles of her family and the community.
And it’s funny! Crazy funny. Laugh out-loud at 6am funny. Highly, highly recommended.
*Books about either the era or the syndrome. I’m a sucker for either.