Mostly Dead Things – Kristen Arnett

What do you do when your taxidermist father shoots himself in the head and your bereaved mother starts making pornographic art using the animals he stuffed? Also, the woman you loved was your brother’s wife and she abandoned both of you. Those are the things Jessa-Lynn Morton is trying to figure out, among few other minor issues.

Another one from my subscription boxes. This one didn’t even have to wait long on the shelf, because its cover with a bright pink flamingo on a green background is so eye-catching. It did help that all the blurbs mention how eccentric it is and how darkly funny.

In the book, we see things mainly from the perspective of Jessa-Lynn, a thirty-something gay taxidermist, who not only lost her father, but was also the one to discover the body. Jessa tries to keep the family taxidermy business going, as she was learning the trade from her father since she was a child. 

Jessa is doubly devastated. She lost her father, but also few years before she lost the love of her life. As it happens the love of her life was also the love of her brother’s life and they did eventually get married. But this didn’t put stop to Jessa’s affair. What did was Brynn’s sudden departure one day. She left with nothing leaving her children and two lovers behind. 

Jessa’s brother apathetically tries to get on with things. Her mother, on the other hand, flies off the handle. She is using the taxidermy store window as a display for her art. A passion she discovered after her husband’s death. It would all be fine if not for the small fact that the art disturbingly utilizes the stuffed animals and places them in highly suggestive poses with loads of sexual paraphernalia. 

This catches an eye of a local gallery owner who offers to organize an exhibition, despite loud objections from Jess. Only to quickly jump to bed with her. From the description so far it may seem that Jessa is the only one at least moderately sane in this whole family. She isn’t, she drowns her sadness in beer and work with all its blood and gore. She keeps people at a distance not able to face her feeling. Her default stance is to shut herself in. Which also makes her completely not empathetic to the suffering her family goes through.

I think you get the picture by now: a bereaved, highly dysfunctional family in the middle of sweltering Florida summer. Now decorate it with loads of stuffed animals and animals going through the process of being stuffed, with all the guts, fat, blood etc. Yummy, isn’t it?

I know the taxidermy is a metaphor for how Jessa treats her feeling, gutting them and preserving the past that is long gone. This is not too difficult to figure out. What was difficult for me was how did anyone think this book is funny. I mean it is macabre, it is sarcastic and sad, all that yes. But funny is not a word I would use. 

I felt, in turns, grossed out, suffocated and bored by Jessa’s turmoil. It just didn’t work for me. The hankering for the past, the constant remembering of the selfish lost lover. The inability to name her feelings makes Jessa incapable of dealing with them. She fights to freeze her life in one imaginary perfect point that never really happened. The title is certainly apt, it is about mostly dead things.

I finished this book, but I don’t think I will be encouraging anyone to read it.

Here are some reviews from other bloggers, so you can have more than just my take on this book:

Angry Angel Books

Elizabeth Reads Books

Anxious Nachos

Bookish & Inked

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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