Mayhem – A Review

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Three Lives of a Woman
Elizabeth Harris

Genre: Historical Literary Fiction

Date of Publication: October 5, 2015

Publisher: Gival Press

# of pages: 130

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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.


“Mayhem is a wonder of a novel.  A careful evocation of time and place, community and character, pitched in a voice rich with the lyric poetry of everyday speech, the novel seems not so much narrated as blown up by a breeze.   It’s not enough to claim that I believed every word of it; I felt every syllable.  This archetypal tale of crime and punishment, so filled with tragedy and sympathy, is one of the most wildly alive novels I have ever read.   Every sentence teems with truths both literal and metaphorical, and yet, for all its wisdom and profundity, it reaches us in the manner of a folk ballad, high and sweet and clear.” — Michael Parker, author of All I Have in This World and The Watery Part of the World

“. . .what to read, watch, and listen to this. . .month in order to achieve maximum Texas cultural literacy. . .Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman, Elizabeth Harris. . .” — Jeff Salamon, Texas Monthly

“In the tradition of Wendell Berry’s elegiac fiction, Elizabeth Harris’ Mayhem. . . a novel that shows reverence to the American South and the people who labored there, but, unlike Berry’s Port William, Kentucky, Harris’ Prince Carl County is unmistakably Central Texas, complete with cattle, cotton, pink granite courthouses and tight-knit German communities.” – Amy Ritthaler Gilmour, San Antonio Express News

“. . . expresses solidarity with marginalized white women from small rural towns, performs a sophisticated act of sisterhood.. . .the quietly insightful and beautifully written Mayhem intrigues and enlightens.” — Judith Newton, Huffington Post






Mayhem – A Review

This 128-page book packs a lot of gripping story into it making it hard to put down. The author, Elizabeth Harris, through her narrator is boldly honest about the characters and places being fictional from the beginning.

She weaves and tells this story in such way I literally imagined myself sitting across from Elizabeth curled up, sipping coffee recounting this story. From my perspective its good storytelling and writing when you can imagine the author being in the room with you while your reading their book.

What struck me at first by Mayhem is the background story is told so well that in my life now I cannot imagine living without the conveniences of an air conditioner or TV. Mayhem seamlessly recounts life in Texas in the 1930s. It’s the most intriguing and truthful writing about living life in Texas during the early 20th Century since I’ve read “The Wind.”

This fictional story evolves around the main character Evelyn Gant, who comes of age during tough times in Texas while growing up to marrying the first boy that kisses her.

When a crass, uncared for character comes into the picture she earnestly tries to tell her husband over and over about his advances, but he shrugs it off as believing everything the other man states. In the end you can feel the weight of Evelyn finally giving up because in the end what did not matter. Certainly, not to her husband.

What erupts from this one event is violence, which leaves Evelyn reconstructing her life – thus her three lives. The reader learns because of that one moment in time everything changed for the people around her. The cleverest writing comes during the summary of the trial that ensued from this one violent event.

Overall, Mayhem gives a sense of believability of the characters and place. If you adore unusual reads that are cleverly told then Mayhem is a must read.


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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




  August 15 – 24, 2016

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8/24 Review Forgotten Winds


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