Faye Rapoport DesPres

Checking Out a New Memoir

I’ve just started reading a memoir that was published in October of last year: “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress” by Rhoda Janzen. One of the things that appeals to me about the book, which arrived in the mail wrapped in a manila envelope thanks to my mom, is that a number of reviewers have said it made them laugh out loud. I’ve mentioned before that the “heaviness” of a lot of good literature sometimes weighs me down emotionally. It’s nice to switch gears now and then and enjoy something light or funny. I’ve also read that the tone struck by the narrator’s voice in this book is appealing. To quote Kate Christensen in The New York Times Book Review, “[Janzen’s] tone reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s deadpan, affectionate, slightly hyperbolic stories about urbanities and Minnesota Lutherans.” I’m always interested in how writers work with voice, so I’m intrigued.

On the audiobook side of things, I’ve been listening to the short stories of Alice Munro in what I believe is her latest collection, “Too Much Happiness.” This is my first experience with Munro and I can see why she’s considered by many to be a short story master. I can’t say I’ve loved every story I’ve heard, but the writing is superb and it’s interesting to try to find patterns of theme or structure in her work. Of course, I’ve been listening to the book while jogging miserably in the mornings or driving in a hot car (temperatures have hit the 90s almost every day here lately) so I might not be absorbing or appreciating quite as much as I would if I were looking at the printed page. As a matter of fact, I listened to at least half a story yesterday while driving to and from — of all places — Walden Pond.

OK, it’s time to get out of this office. I can feel the humidity climbing as I write.  Plus, a cat is sitting on the floor next to my chair, staring up at me. I think he’s telling me it’s lunchtime.

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2 thoughts on “Checking Out a New Memoir

  1. Nora Lumiere

    Laughing out loud is the best review of a book – f it’s meant to funny, of course.
    I too admire Alice Monroe’s style but she often leaves me cold. Not much passion there.

  2. admin Post author

    That’s interesting what you say about Alice Munro, Nora. I was thinking about it today, and although I have only read — listened to — this one book, what I can say about the stories I heard is that there is a certain emotional detachment to the narration. I think it’s a strategy that creates an interesting contrast to
    the horrific/shocking things that happen or the types of unexpected thoughts that occur to the characters in a few of the stories, but there is a certain lack of emotional warmth as well — I wonder if that’s what you’re thinking of when you say “not much passion.” I think of it, in a couple of the stories, as a seething rage going on inside some of the characters that comes out in understated ways that are all the more shocking because they are so understated. Again, that’s just my reaction to this one book. I’d be interested to know what others think of Munro’s work.