Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman

Written by Elizabeth Harris
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Born in 1909, Evelyn Kunkle of Iron Rock, Texas comes from a good family, and so does her new husband, Lester Gant. Both are descended from hard-working German immigrants who carved ranches out of Texas scrublands and created their own affluence. The Kunkles and Gants build a rock house for the newlyweds, then wait hopefully for the next generation.

Some thirty years later, Evelyn is a castoff; dogged by whispers of impropriety which render her unfit to raise other people’s children. She is one of those middle-aged women who assist the elderly in return for room, board, and stipend. Owning nothing she can’t fit into a suitcase, Evelyn passes from one invalid from the next as need arises. How did Evelyn fall so far?

The Great Depression stresses the Gants, and so does the couple’s infertility. Then Lester finds Evelyn in a compromising position with a neighbor’s shiftless son. The traumatized woman is unable to speak of rape when she sees condemnation in her husband’s eyes. Lester Gant and his brother catch up with Charlie McCoy, and are arrested for castrating him.

Elizabeth Harris presents readers with Evelyn Kunkle’s tragically checkered life in Mayhem. It is a delight to read in many ways, with rich atmosphere, complex characters, and fluid writing. However, Ms. Harris breaks the dimension between her story and its readers; subtly at first, but this violation is recurrent. When an author speaks directly to inform me of a character’s purpose or motivation, I am thrust out of the story. However, this is personal preference, so don’t let it stop you giving Mayhem a try.