MAYHEM: Three Lives of a Woman
by Elizabeth Harris
Genre: Historical Literary Fiction
Date of Publication: October 5, 2015
Publisher: Gival Press
# of pages: 130
Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman is a literary novel with a historical setting that engages issues of gender, vigilantism, recovery from trauma, and nostalgia for the rural and small-town past.
Two stock-farmers in 1936 Texas are accused of castrating a neighbor. Mayhem is the story of their crime and its consequences–the violent past and standard gender relations that enable it, and its economic displacement of the modest, well-connected woman who occasions it.
Around the edges of the story, an authorial narrator admits why she fictionalizes this past and shapes the novel as she does.
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I have never read a book quite like Mayhem. It started off a bit intimidating with the introduction of so many separate families and how they each played a role in each others life. I was scared how I was going to keep track of them all. Some were not so friendly to one another and it explained how they kept their distance from each other and some made a point to even marry into families to keep the neighborly respect.
This story was told in the past tense, which is my least favorite point of view. In my opinion the author can not pour out their heart as easily, which as a result has the story feeling a bit more distanced. I did enjoy in this novel the use of the authors' sporadic first person opinions and insight thrown in to point out foreshadowing instances and give us warnings as the story unfolded.
A few chapters into the story, it starts to really reel you in, pun intended, as the daily chore of bringing in the fishing line seems to be assigned permanently to Evelyn, the obstacle in the story is introduced. The rest is history as once the hook is set, you are a goner. The story flew by after the introductions and it was hard to put the book down. This was a great, short novel and entertaining to be put back into that time frame and experience the characters morales and trepidations.
About The Author
Elizabeth Harris is the author of Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman (2015), which won the Gival Press Novel Award and was a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Best Fiction (2016). Mayhem has been reviewed with enthusiasm, praised as essential cultural Texana, and compared to fiction of Katherine Anne Porter, Wendell Berry, Cormac McCarthy, and Annie Proulx for its style and its penetration of the Western myth. Harris’s first book The Ant Generator (1991), a short story collection, was chosen by Marilynne Robinson for the prestigious John Simmons Award from the University of Iowa Press. Some of her stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the South, Best of Wind, The Iowa Award, and Literary Austin. Two other novel manuscripts of Harris’ have been recognized in national competitions.
Harris grew up as Betsy Hall on the east side of Ft. Worth, where she became an avid reader. Her father was a journalist, a former editor of The Daily Texan in 1930-31 who worked for the now-defunct Ft. Worth Press and Pittsburgh Press, and she recalls former newswomen—who had become reporters during World War II—as personal inspirations and role models. She went to high school in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, and to Carnegie-Mellon and Stanford Universities. She taught fiction-writing at the University of Texas at Austin and counts many friends and writers among her former students. She and her husband are birders and football fans. Visit Elizabeth Harris at www.elizabethharriswriter.com
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