Book Review: Mostly Dead Things

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

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.

This is a book that, after reading the blurb, I really wanted to love; however, I didn’t. It was fine. It was funny at times. It was strange. I’m good with strange, but there was something about this book that just didn’t resonate with me.
Partly, I think, I just didn’t love the main character, Jessa, until nearly the end of the book. I found her character tedious at times and I just wanted to shake her. I couldn’t get into the strange relationship that both her and her brother had with Brynn. I also didn’t like how Milo, her brother, was basically a non-existent parent. That didn’t sit well at all. It had been something like 14 years since Brynn left and still Jessa and Milo couldn’t get themselves together.
The book also dragged, especially in the middle, but it did pick up at the end. Maybe this book is more of an exploration of an idea than a strong story.
I did love Jessa’s mother, though. She was fantastic. I loved how she rearranged the taxidermied animals in “artistic” ways and how she used her art to come to terms with her life and marriage. She was the only one with any life in her, and maybe that was the point.
Other people seem to love this book, however, so maybe it is more of a case of this book just not being for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and Tin House Books for a review copy.
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