What role does expectation play in a reader's satisfaction with a book? I only read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen because my book club chose it for April. I knew it was well received by book critics and popular with the reading public at large, but it had not made my to-read list. I'm not sure why as I have enjoyed memoirs of women who radically changed their circumstances, including The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball and Claiming Ground by Laura Bell. I think I anticipated not liking an everything-is-a-joke tone but was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed Janzen's humorous story telling and rich language.
Others in the book group expected more from Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and were disappointed. They found they could not understand why Janzen remained so long in an abusive relationship when she was so smart and had the means to withdraw. Several thought she was unkind in descriptions of others, including family. Some even distrusted her account. So many memoirs have been exposed as false lately that this is inevitable.
The story rang true to me, as I know people who never act to improve their situations, holding on to hopeless relationships until the others leave. As for being unkind, I would not wish to be assessed by Janzen, but i think she is as critical of herself, and I think there is merit in telling the story as she does. I hope friends and family will forgive her. Maybe they shake their heads and say Rhoda is just being Rhoda.
Through humor and self-exposure, Janzen tells a story that both entertains and philosophizes. Entering her world for several evenings is time well spent.
Janzen, Rhoda. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home. Henry Holt, 2009. 241p. ISBN 9780805089257.