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
One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo's wife―and the only person Jessa's ever been in love with―walks out without a word.
As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother's art escalates―picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose―and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.
Kristen Arnett's debut novel is a darkly funny, heart-wrenching, and eccentric look at loss and love.