Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
A Memoir of Going Home
By Rhoda Janzen
Atlantic Books – £8.99
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – A Memoir of Going Home is one of those books that desperately warrants being turned into a film. That’s not to say what’s written amid these 241 pages doesn’t work within a literary framework. Far from it; but rather that the angular imagery and on occasion, the book’s kooky descriptions, cry out to be heard and seen on the silver screen (and perhaps even the theatre).
This may partially explain why it was Number One in the U.S. For as well as being endearingly funny, it’s also intermittently, shockingly frank.
To be sure, authoress Rhoda Janzen, is capable of making one cry, reflect, and politely giggle, simultaneously. Following a car crash and being left by her husband of fifteen years (for a another men he’d met on Gay.com), Janzen wrote this book having returned to the conservative Mennonite community, after an absence of more than two decades.
‘’It was therapeutic’’ she writes (on page three of ‘On Writing Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’) ‘’almost soothing, to be back in the old stomping ground, browsing an antique mall with my seventy-year-old mother. At one stall she spied a country-fresh ceramic rooster and said, ‘Do you know Norma Franz? Conrad Franz’s wife?’
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘Norma Franz has a thing for roosters,’ she said thoughtfully. Then, following some thread of logic that I couldn’t quite trace, she added, ‘ Her husband Conrad is a Butt Man. You know how some men like to focus on one body part? Well, Conrad Franz has a thing for bottoms. Once he took a picture of Norma’s bottom. She was wearing beige slacks and she was bent over, like this.’ My mother obligingly bent over right there in the middle of the antique mall.
‘Norma told you this?’ I asked.
My mother nodded.
‘Was Norma posing? Or did Conrad just sneak up on her?’
‘She had something on her shoe,’ my mother answered. ‘And then Conrad wanted to frame the picture and hang it in the living room! Can you believe that?
‘Did Norma let him?’
‘She did! She showed me the picture.’
‘How did it look?’ I asked.
‘It looked like a bottom in beige slacks. That’s not my idea of art.’
‘Mom,’ I said, ‘which would you rather put in your living room: a framed picture of Norma Franz’s bottom in beige slacks, or this ceramic rooster?’
‘She snorted. ‘Oh, no contest! The rooster! But it wouldn’t look good on the piano.’’’
The above will hopefully give some indication as to why this book would make such a strong film or stage play. Reason being, from a straight, full-on, literary perspective, it’s a tad linear and one dimensional in that the mother character, Mary, is by far the strongest and most colourful character. But within a different setting, this might not necessarily be the case; especially if perhaps Renee Zellweger was to play Rhoda Janzen, Diane Keaton the mother and John Hurt the father.
This may all be a little too much to ask, admittedly, but within Mennonite in a Little black Dress, lays the kernel of a great film.