Parts of this book made me squeamish, which is hard to do. Jessa is a taxidermist, just like her father - he taught her everything he knows. She takes care of the dead animals and gives them new ‘life,’ and at the same time, she is struggling to exist in hers. The love of her life, Brynn (she’s had an intense love for her since they were kids) has left her and her brother, who is Brynn’s husband, and their two kids. The family is run down, literally and figuratively, when her father commits suicide and leaves everything to Jessa to keep the family going. Jessa can’t cope with any of the gaping holes in her life without large amounts of alcohol to harden her resolve at dealing with anything in her life. When her mother starts to act out using stuffed animals in art installation, Jessa loses control of everything and spirals even further out. Kristen Arnett uses flashbacks between the chapters expertly, demonstrating how this family got to where it is, and how the family could possibly make it to some sort of safe zone. Perhaps? A real gut-wrenching novel that had me sweating in the middle of winter (Florida sounds awfully hot and humid all the time) and wondering just how many people still want taxidermy done. A great read!— Jason Kennedy
June 2019 Indie Next List
“After her father commits suicide, Jessa is tasked with saving her family’s taxidermy business from going bankrupt. She also has to take care of her family’s strange problems — including her mother’s affinity for turning their taxidermy into risqué works of art. Mostly Dead Things is a fun, eccentric book with a steamy lesbian romance, ongoing sibling rivalry, and dark confessions of a family that is willing to go the mile in order to make ends meet. Stuffed with humor, heartfelt moments, and some gritty bits, Arnett’s writing will make you laugh, cry, and wonder how an author’s first novel can be so engaging and well-written!”
— Sage Cristal, UC San Diego Bookstore, La Jolla, CA
Summer 2020 Reading Group Indie Next List
“Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things is a unique and charismatic story that winds its way through family matters, personal strife, and most important of all: taxidermy. Great for fans of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!”
— Delany Holcomb, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC
The celebrated New York Times Bestseller
A Best Book of the Year pick at the New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, TIME, Washington Post, Oprahmag.com, Thrillist, Shelf Awareness, Good Housekeeping and more.
What does it take to come back to life? For Jessa-Lynn Morton, the question is not an abstract one. In the wake of her father’s suicide, Jessa has stepped up to manage his failing taxidermy business while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the taxidermy shop to make provocative animal art, while her brother, Milo, withdraws. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. It’s not until the Mortons reach a tipping point that a string of unexpected incidents begins to open up surprising possibilities and second chances. But will they be enough to salvage this family, to help them find their way back to one another? Kristen Arnett’s breakout bestseller is a darkly funny family portrait; a peculiar, bighearted look at love and loss and the ways we live through them together.
About the Author
Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She won the 2017 Coil Book Award for her debut short fiction collection, Felt in the Jaw, and was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction. She lives in Florida. Follow her on Twitter @Kristen_Arnett.
Arnett possesses all the bravery her characters dream of. There’s none of the shyness and self-consciousness of so much American fiction that masks itself as austerity. She writes comic set pieces to make you laugh, sex scenes to turn you on. The action flips from the past to the present, swimming through first love and first grief on a slick of red Kool-Aid and vodka, suntan oil and fruity lip gloss, easy and unforced. This book is my song of the summer.
— Parul Sehgal
Mostly Dead Things is very Florida, very gay, and very good... a rock-solid family novel, brightened by its eccentric milieu.
It's darkly funny, both macabre and irreverent, and its narrator is so real that every time I stopped reading the book, I felt a tiny pull at the back of my mind, as if I'd left a good friend in the middle of a conversation.
— Ilana Masad
The writing is subtle and meditative, with the tactile weight of dense fur . . . taxidermy can, Arnett argues, bring us closer to life . . . . Arnett, transposing the metaphor out of the horror genre, closes the distance between viewer and viewed. She takes taxidermy seriously as a craft, not just as a device; she makes it real and intimate . . . it gives readers a fresh way to think about fiction itself, which lives, or half lives, on the rippling cusp of the real.
Precisely as strange, riotous, searing, and subversive as you’d want it to be. And, yes, its humor is as dark and glinting as the black plastic eye of a taxidermy ferret. . . . [A] celebration of the strangeness of life and love and loss, all of it as murky as a Florida swamp but beautiful in its wildness.
Mostly Dead Things suggests, above all else, that love is not something to be conquered, killed, skinned and mounted. It is living, and a verb. What we do for love — be it build erotic buffalo sculptures in grief-stricken homage, steal peacocks, raise someone else’s children, collect roadkill — is so much more powerful than what we think about it.
Set in a richly rendered Florida and filled with delightfully wry prose and bracing honesty, Arnett’s novel introduces a keenly skillful author with imagination and insight to spare.
Arnett depicts the Morton family’s struggles with tenderness and humanity, as well as streaks of deliciously black humor. Far more than just a book-length Florida Man story, Mostly Dead Things broke our hearts in the best possible way.
Arnett is a talented and original writer, and everybody paying attention to her work will be eagerly awaiting whatever else she has in store.
Hilarious, deeply morbid, and full of heart.
It’s the kind of book that sneaks up on you, the kind you read until you realize you have to pee or that the light has left the room. Her writing is accessible and feels like reading a thought from your own brain you weren’t aware of thinking, tapping into experiences of adulthood and gayness and
ongoing that you might think you were the only one to have.
Mostly Dead Things is a phenomenal novel about family, taxidermy, and queerness. You’ll devour this bizarre, brilliant book.
This slice of Sunshine State gothic has instant classic written all over it. Everything you find both weird and beautiful about Florida has been packaged up and turned into one of this year’s best debut novels.
An ambitious debut writer with extraordinary promise, Arnett brings all of Florida's strangeness to life through the lens of a family snowed under with grief.
An incisive and peculiar study of grief. ... Arnett writes about how we have to overcome our first understanding of the world in order to process it as an adult. She uses the language of taxidermy to explore the memories that ripple beneath our longest held beliefs.
"More than about death, it is also a novel about intimacy and wanting what is forbidden, about childhood and family, about absent parents and absent lovers, and about the secondhand self-destruction that can be wrought by ignoring cries of the heart."
A worthy addition to the new Florida canon: a highly engrossing, extremely promising, sad, and very funny first novel about sex and death.
Mostly Dead Things is one of the strangest and funniest and most surprising first novels I’ve ever read. A love letter to Florida and to family, to half-lit swamps and the 7/11, and to the beasts that only pretend to hold their poses inside us. In Kristen Arnett’s expert hands, taxidermy becomes a language to capture our species’ impossible and contradictory desire to be held and to be free.
— Karen Russell, author of SWAMPLANDIA!
If Heather Lewis and Joy Williams had a child it might be this—I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like it. There’s a gunslinger cool to every sentence, like someone is telling you the last story they’ll ever tell you. Kristen Arnett is the queen of the Florida no one has ever told you about, and on every page she brings it to a steely and vivid life.
— Alexander Chee, author of HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL
Mostly Dead Things packs messed-up families, scandalous love affairs, art, life, death and the great state of Florida into one delicious, darkly funny package. Kristen Arnett is wickedly talented and a wholly original voice
— Jami Attenberg, author of ALL GROWN UP
Kristen Arnett has written a portrait of an American family grieving their dead and their living, and lovingly tearing one another to shreds in the process. Too, this is a book about salvaging, about the Mortons’ refusal to abandon what remains, to be buoys and co-conspirators for one another’s hearts. Mostly Dead Things is a vicious and tender beast, alive with wry humor and the undeniable beauty of the ways we love.
— Danielle Lazarin, author of BACK TALK