“Need, my father had written. To need meant to be vulnerable. It was one of the scariest things I could imagine. Needing anything meant you were open to invasion. It meant you had no control of yourself.”
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett had me rushing through my daily responsibilities to find time to pick this novel up again. I carried it around like a purse, savoring the moments I could crack it open and read a few paragraphs. It’s that good.
Jessa-Lynn Morton’s beloved father commits suicide in the family’s Florida taxidermy shop, where she finds him one morning. Riddled with grief and a little bit of anger, Jessa takes over the failing business as the rest of her family continues to fall apart. Still mourning her father, who taught her everything about skinning and mounting an animal, she is also grieving the loss of the only woman she has ever truly loved. Brynn, a childhood best friend and later the wife of Jessa’s brother, Milo, walks out without a word, leaving behind her two children Lolee and Bastien. Jessa, once again steps up to the plate to take care of everyone, as she herself is slowly unraveling under the weight of loss.
Kristen Arnett’s writing is so vivid, so beautifully rendered, full of physicality. The bodies of these characters are very much alive —their tastes, smells and textures described with such profound and careful detail. Arnett isn’t afraid of blood, guts and bodily fluids; a quality I really love in a writer. I liked to feel messy with these characters— Jessa’s ever present grimy jeans, guts on the metal shop table, her mother’s lewd, pornographic art work created with the store’s inventory of animal parts.
Mixed with dark and witty humor and the quirkiness of Florida, Mostly Dead Things explores the power of vulnerability, the refusal to abandon the familiar and the tender, temperamental beast that is family.
Mostly Dead Things
By Kristen Arnett
356 page. 2019