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Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman Paperback – October 5, 2015
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In Mayhem the pitiful truth of motivations behind a woman's three lives is told in spare, sometimes lyric, sometimes cruel, language of late 19th and early 20th century Texas German farmers. Time is layered so carefully, any reader will recognize age-old prejudices underlie personal choices. Strengths and follies of Mayhem's characters are sources of both comedy and terror. One cannot help but acknowledge, through the ironic vision, including fictions within fiction, of Elizabeth Harris' work, Yes, life is like that. --Carolyn Osborn, author of Where We Are Now
In Elizabeth Harris s exquisite new novel about a small Central Texas community in the early decades of the last century, mayhem is something more and something different than the sort of violence or turbulence that the word commonly denotes: it is more subtly, and more originally a condition of the characters ordinary lives and familiar relations. Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman is one of the most intimate, vivid, and textured literary evocations of a bygone time and place and woman s life that I have read, yet also one of the most mysterious. That s because Harris possesses a combination of craft and wisdom found only in the finest historical novelists: the craft to render the past luminously in imagination, and the wisdom to recognize that that past can only be imagined, never known. Gripping, haunting, elusive, Mayhem is an extraordinary achievement. --Evan Carton, author of Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America
With an eye for both the beauty of nature and the brutality of humans reminiscent of E. Annie Proulx, Elizabeth Harris tells the riveting story of a vicious crime and one woman s subsequent fall from grace. Set in Central Texas in the first half of the 20th century, Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman captures the quirks and intricacies of rural Texas culture. Mayhem s protagonist, Evelyn Gant, navigates the constraints placed on women, and her necessary obedience to her husband results in a momentary concession that ends life as she knows it. Like the fiction of Marilynne Robinson, everything in Harris's writing is deeply consequential; and her ability to convey both the natural and social worlds of Texas in the 1930s astounds. Extraordinary! --Mary Pauline Lowry, author of Wildfire
About the Author
Elizabeth Harris is a native Texan who grew up in Ft. Worth and in Pittsburgh, PA. She won the John Simmons Prize, awarded by University of Iowa Press, for her first book, The Ant Generator, a collection of stories praised for their sense of wonder and comedy and acid-etched existentialism. Those and uncollected stories appeared in Antioch Review, Epoch, Chicago Review, North American Review, Shenandoah, and other magazines, and have been anthologized in New Stories from the South, Best of Wind, The Iowa Award, and Literary Austin. She was a runner up in a previous Gival Press contest with The Look Thief, a contemporary novel; and in a Faulkner Pirate's Alley competition for an earlier novel. She taught fiction writing and modern literature for a number of years at the University of Texas in Austin, where she and her husband live.
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The uncanny excitement of Mayhem arises from the success with which Elizabeth Harris evokes the unknown/halfknown world beyond the echo chamber, the brief moments of contact with our own 'real' world that are marked when her voice comes in to take responsibility for the shaping of the story, but not insisting on what's happening in the dark.
Initially, I had some trouble getting into the cadence of the writing, and I found that I was in turn frustrated and delighted by it. This book requires patience and focus, but the rewards are richly detailed passages and an intricate, imaginative story – which is encased by another intricate, imaginative story . . . and possibly encased once more. For those readers who like novels to fit into nice, neat boxes: good luck. In Mayhem, Author Elizabeth Harris provides historical literary speculative crime fiction with contemporary issues.
One element which makes this book fascinating is the narrator, who speaks directly to the reader and readily provides spoilers and confesses to making-up parts of the story. Ah, but which parts are fiction and which parts are truth is often left for the reader to discern. Main character Evelyn is real enough, as are her trials and tribulations of playing the role of a wife and woman adhering to societal rules and expectations in the early 20th century. Also real enough are the consequences of adhering too much or not enough to the rules.
Something about Harris’s writing reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Perhaps it was the build-up and the grand unraveling? Or the blurry line of reality and remembered reality. In any case, Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman lingers and its events keep tumbling around in the brain, begging to be re-visited.
Thank you to Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing me a print copy in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give. If you like this review, visit my blog Hall Ways for book views, reviews, and news you can use - or not. [...]