March 10, 2011

Mennonites Don't Dance

Mennonites Don't Dance is a book of short stories by Kelowna author Darcie Friesen Hossack. I struggled mightily with this book when I first started to read it, but Jeremy had given it to me so I didn't want to put it down. As most of my friends and family know, I've avoided all kinds of dark literature and art for many years, thinking that cheerier fare would keep me in a more positive frame of mind. This is one of the darkest books I've read in a long time, with everything from a murder to dead kittens, drought, boredom, anger, torn wallpaper, dolls stuffed into the garbage and outright evil lurking in its pages.

I felt increasingly bewildered as I read as to where all this horror came from - the references to the Mennonite culture seemed so bitter to me and somehow retro. Two things helped me understand the book a little better. One was talking to Jeremy about it. He could deeply relate to the young father in "Luna" and recognized many other characters from his own childhood growing up in a Mennonite family and community. This got me thinking about some of the bitter events and some of the characters, some of them still in my life, that coloured my growing up years as well.
The other piece of the puzzle for me was reading the book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain alongside Mennonites Don't Dance and realizing how far afield into the "rose-coloured glasses" syndrome I may be wandering as I get older. Protecting yourself from all stresses and stressful thoughts might feel comfortable but it's not doing your brain (or likely your character) much good in the long run to be wrapped in fuzzy cotton.

So, interestingly, Mennonites Don't Dance feels as though it could be a challenge for me to approach life with more gumption (now there's a retro word!). And I'd be most interested in meeting this courageous local author sometime.


  1. Looking forward to discussing this further now that you're finished. I'm thinking I should re-read a couple of them too, as it really washed over me like a wave in my first reading session.

    Wouldn't hurt to ask Darcie if she'd be willing to talk to your writer's group -- could be fascinating.

  2. Maybe she'll chime in her herself, but this is what Darcie wrote in response on Facebook:

    "Jeremy, your mom's blog post takes my breath away. Her courage to not put the stories down and reach for something cheerful. Your relationship that allowed you both to open old seals. Please tell her I'd like very much to speak to her reading group, but only if that's something she wants."

    And she's also got a wonderful blog post up about our exchange:

  3. Dianne, It may seem an odd thing to say, but your response to Mennonites Don't Dance, that you didn't put the stories aside and suggest the author write something more cheerful, has been an unlooked for gift. I hope the moments of grace in the stories, the hands reaching back and forth to one another, are some light in the otherwise darkness.

    With so much appreciation,

  4. Hey, I'm up for it!
    Great blog Dianne. Your honesty here is, hmm, looking for a word that works.... delightful? Really. A ray of light in a dark place sounds cliche but it does have merit. To quote from a much wiser source than myself: Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day Darkness and light are alike to You. Ps 139