STARRED REVIEW
June 04, 2019

Mostly Dead Things

By Kristen Arnett
With Mostly Dead Things, Kristen Arnett has crafted an astonishing debut novel that’s both a new entry in the long history of great fiction about grief and a darkly comic flight of brilliance.
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Grief takes many forms, and those many forms have been translated into many great novels of astonishing tonal variety. Some are entirely somber, others gloriously comedic, all speaking to an essential truth about the profound and often bizarre ways in which we mourn. With Mostly Dead Things, Kristen Arnett has crafted an astonishing debut novel that’s both a new entry in the long history of great fiction about grief and a darkly comic flight of brilliance that transports the reader to a familiar yet alien world of frozen moments and dysfunctional love.

Jessa-Lynn Morton has taken over her family’s Florida taxidermy shop in the wake of her father’s suicide, and things are not going well. Her sister-in-law (who also happened to be the love of her life) has walked out on the family, her brother is having trouble focusing on anything, clients are drying up, and their mother is using the taxidermied animals in the shop window to make increasingly bizarre works of “art.” Torn between family obligation, a new romantic relationship and her mother’s efforts to both transform and defile her father’s work, Jessa struggles to find her place in a changing family dynamic.

Arnett shifts between past and present throughout the novel, reframing Jessa’s formative experiences as a budding taxidermist and as a young gay woman, just as Jessa must reframe her own life in a new context after her father’s death. It’s a powerful narrative tool, particularly as the novel increasingly focuses on taxidermy as a way to capture moments frozen in perfect, intricate preservation. Arnett’s precise, wickedly witty prose paints a portrait of a searcher, of a woman longing for what came before even if she’s no longer entirely sure what she liked about it, even as she attempts to let something new into her life. It all comes together in a bold, dark and profound comic novel about the nature of love, loss and invention.

Mostly Dead Things. announces Arnett as one of the most promising rising novelists writing today.

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Mostly Dead Things

Mostly Dead Things

By Kristen Arnett
Tin House
ISBN 9781947793309

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