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Mostly Dead Things af Kristen Arnett
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Mostly Dead Things (original 2019; udgave 2019)

af Kristen Arnett (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
3911850,423 (3.49)30
Taking over her family's failing taxidermy shop in the wake of her father's suicide, grief-stricken Jessa-Lynn Morton pursues less-than-legal ways of generating income while struggling to figure out her place among her eccentric loved ones.
Medlem:holdenkillfield
Titel:Mostly Dead Things
Forfattere:Kristen Arnett (Forfatter)
Info:Tin House Books (2019), Edition: First U.S. Edition, 354 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
Vurdering:
Nøgleord:to-read, can-borrow-from-library

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Mostly Dead Things af Kristen Arnett (2019)

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» Se også 30 omtaler

Viser 1-5 af 18 (næste | vis alle)
The full review is available at The Gray Planet.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett turned out to be a very odd read. The book has received many glowing, high profile reviews, particularly for a first novel. Most reviewers have described the book as unusual in one way or another. I would agree.

Jessa Morton is the first person narrator of the story. She was raised by her mother and her taxidermist father along with her younger brother Milo, in Florida. Taxidermy is the common thread in the novel--it is her father's passion as well as the family livelihood. Jessa is groomed from a young age to help her father in the taxidermy shop and he favors her over Milo. From an early age, Jessa understands that she is gay and she is singularly attracted to Brynn, a girl her age. Jessa and Brynn become both friends and lovers as teenagers. Their relationship is complicated as Brynn also is involved with boys. Brynn eventually marries Milo, but Jessa and Brynn maintain their affair even through the marriage and children.

The story starts with the suicide of Prentice Morton, Jessa's father. He shoots himself in the head in the taxidermy shop and, knowing that Jessa will be the one to find him, leaves her a private note. We also learn that Brynn ran away a few years ago, leaving Milo, her children (Bastien and Lolee) and Jessa to wonder where she went and why.

The chapters of the novel occur in two timeframes. The first, with titles like Sus Scrofa--Feral Pig, take place in the past, with Jessa describing growing up with Brynn and Milo and her family. Chapters that are labeled with numbers take place in the present time of the novel, starting about a year after the suicide.

In the novel, Jessa deals with multiple issues. First, is her father's suicide and the note he left which asks her to take care of things. The full contents of the note are never fully disclosed. Instead, it becomes almost talismanic and Jessa uses it to attempt to understand or control the major issues in her life--her relationship with her father, her mother, her brother, and her lovers. The note remains mysterious and is full of power for Jessa. She feels it is her responsibility to follow the instructions in the note, even to her own detriment.

Jessa's life has been subtly controlled by her relationships with her father and with Brynn, her lover. Both have now deserted her, her father by suicide, Brynn by running away. Any remaining support system she has--her mother, Libby, and her brother, Milo, are dysfunctional and distant. Following her husband's suicide, Jessa's mother can only focus on prurient, pornographic art which consists of sexually posing taxidermy available to her around the house and at the shop. This angers and concerns Jessa. To Jessa, it is demeaning to her father's legacy and work, particularly because Libby portrays her dead husband as a participant in her stagings.

Milo floats through life after Brynn deserts him and their children, unable to focus on either his parental responsibilities or his work or personal hygiene. Milo and Jessa's relationship is close, but complicated by the intertwining of their relationships with Brynn and the fact that Brynn left them both.

Jessa's attempts at connecting with others (Lucinda, a love interest, for example) leave her dissatisfied and bereft as she is unable to define, connect with or feel her own grief. It is this grief, this dissatisfaction with life, that colors the entire narrative of the book and drives its tone using the primal process of taxidermy as its symbol. As the taxidermist deconstructs his subject and delves into the smells, the slime, the blood and guts of it, before reconstructing it with parts on hand and baling wire, so Jessa does with her life in the alternating chapters.

This emotional angst colors Jessa's descriptions of the world around her. Everything in Jessa's life, even things that are traditionally beautiful and joyful, are made grotesque and sad when Jessa describes them. For example: remembering Milo and Brynn’s wedding, Jessa describes the flowers she and the other attendants hold:

We held flowers that attracted bugs. Clutching our bouquets, we swatted and let the petals fall in wilted clumps on the grass. It clouded up and threatened rain for over an hour, but the sky refused to break open.

This negative context wears on the reader and we despair, as the book goes on and on, that there is anything other than her father's fate--a gun to the head--awaiting Jessa. Unlike some others, I did not find absurd humor in Jessa's narrative, only sadness. Jessa seemed doomed to this distorted view of the world and the people in it and I really didn't want to read more about it.

Despite this, I continued reading and was glad I did. The rest of this review explains why, but reveals some detail about the ending.


Jessa attempts to control her destiny, but her narcissistic efforts result in tragedy. After her mother’s prurient art work is destroyed, partly as a result of Jessa's actions, Jessa attempts to reconnect with her mother by showing her the suicide note from her father. Libby doesn’t care and tears up the note. This angers Jessa and she initially separates herself even further from her mother. But, after a time, with her last connection to her father now destroyed, Jessa is able to see her life differently.

In a moving scene, Jessa visits her mother, and finds her hiding in the bathroom, unkempt physically and nearly catatonic. She washes her mother's body as she would a child. The description of this is as clinically detailed and personal as her descriptions of deconstructing a dead animal’s body for taxidermy. But from this clinical viewpoint comes loving kindness, and Jessa is transformed by it. The family’s dog, Sir Charles, stuffed by Jessa’s father and Libby’s husband watches this symbolic cleansing occur, almost a participant. After wrapping her mother in a towel, Jessa takes her to the living room where she “turns on the tortoise”, a phrase her father used to describe turning on a lamp with a green shade so he could see more clearly. In this new light, Jessa and Libby redefine their relationship. They lay to rest the demons that have beset them both—Prentice and Brynn, father, husband, lover.

It is this scene that saves the book. Arnett handles this deftly. She ties together all the themes and characters in her book tightly and creates an ending that is subtle, deep, and profound. Like taxidermy, life is messy and sometimes it stinks. But, if you can can see clearly what you learned in the deconstruction of the body, if you can use what is on hand to create from the destruction a new and lasting beauty, life can be good. Taxidermy preserves beauty. Love, whether lost or ongoing, preserves life.

I initially gave the book a mediocre rating—around 60/100. But this book and its ending have stuck with me over the past two weeks and grown larger in my memory. Jessa’s narrative of despair and dirt, of guts and gore, of sadness and loss, was necessary to make the ending as powerful as it was. The novel at times was a slog to get through—but the travails of the journey were necessary to make the end of the journey sweeter.


( )
  tbrown3131949 | Aug 20, 2021 |
I started writing this review before I was half-way finished reading, trying to articulate (in my head) just how this book was making me feel, how and what it was making me feel. I started to cry at the point the narrator first mentions Publix, and while we have Publixes (Publi?) here in SC, I realized then that the tears were because I missed Florida, and this book is about as Florida as it gets.

That is, it's as close to my Florida as I've read. It is cliche enough to point out that depending on where you are from in the Sunshine State, your experiences as a Floridian are vastly different. I suspect that Arnett experienced much the same Florida as I did, that sandy, wet, so humid it "hurts to breathe" Florida, the one I could begrudgingly admire for its beauty and still dread having to go outside and into it.

I think I read something Roxanne Gay wrote about this novel being visceral, or maybe I'm remembering that wrong. It is, (maybe?) in her words, a very physical book-- sometimes disturbingly so. The plot centers around a family supported by the family's taxidermy business, so you can imagine the descriptions that are sprinkled throughout. But the physical descriptions of the characters are the ones that stay with you. I've known at least two Jessas, each described to varying degrees of accuracy in Mostly Dead Things. After, I find I love Jessa Morton nearly as much as my own Jessas. Or maybe it makes me love them (or the memories of them) more?

For me, the book is about loneliness, and how loneliness can cause you to create the world around you in ways that aren't always healthy. I love the metaphor, somewhat obvious, of preserved game, pets, and roadkill that builds slowly from the beginning. By the time the title revealed itself to me (I may be slow, but realizing that I was pairing the wrong two words, goodness) the weight of realization was quite a bit to bear. I felt accused, exposed.

I miss Florida. There's something about my native state that just feels different than any other place I've lived. It's not just that I don't live there anymore and am nostalgic (dig this quote: "Nostalgia carved out my insides, padding my bones until my limbs stuck, splayed. Frozen in time, refusing to live." Read it again when you've finished the novel.). It feels like home, and home hasn't always been the best place for me. It was, is, however, always home.

Damn, I really liked this book. I'll stop here before I embarrass myself more. ( )
  allan.nail | Jul 11, 2021 |
I like that it's queer, but after loving and being spoiled by Julia Elliott's [b:The New and Improved Romie Futch|25346877|The New and Improved Romie Futch|Julia Elliott|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1429047483l/25346877._SY75_.jpg|45086160] (also by Tin House, not surprisingly), I find it too derivative with way more melancholy and not nearly enough humor and BONKERS. Maybe I'll finish this one of these days, but right now, it's only making me want to re-read Romie Futch. ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
Occasionally funny though ultimately contrived. The drama felt as staged as the taxidermied menagerie; I couldn’t fully invest in the Mortons’ psychological turmoil as it vacillated between the cartoonish and the cliché. Arnett does have a knack for writing about viscera while there are some concise prose gems throughout (e.g., “Nothing made an animal look less alive than tension leaked from the spine”). The book doesn’t evolve much beyond its narrow gimmick of dead animal erotica, unfortunately. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
Mostly Dead Things is a strange and moving summer read, about a disaffected young woman in need of a return to intimacy and love after the death of her father and the loss of her lover, who was also her brother’s wife. A disturbance comes in the form of her mother, who asserts herself by appropriating taxidermy, the family business and the art Jessa shared with her father, to create her own very arresting art which gains the attention of an attractive dealer. The book is suffused with loss and longing and heat and blood, and succeeds when it focuses on the battered relationship between mother and daughter and what can be done to set it right.. ( )
  bostonbibliophile | Jun 1, 2020 |
Viser 1-5 af 18 (næste | vis alle)
...it's darkly funny, both macabre and irreverent, and its narrator is so real that every time I stopped reading the book, I felt a tiny pull at the back of my mind, as if I'd left a good friend in the middle of a conversation.
 
Arnett, who is based in Orlando and the author of the 2017 collection “Felt in the Jaw,” gets many things right in this first novel: the feeling of being trapped and vulnerable within one’s own family; the frustration of trying to look to the future when the past has “its teeth dug into you like a rabid animal”; how “love makes you an open wound, susceptible to infection”; and the manifold risks of swimming in a warm Florida lake, where if an alligator doesn’t get you, a brain-eating amoeba might.
tilføjet af zapzap | RedigerThe Washington Post, Jake Cline (Jun 5, 2019)
 

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Taking over her family's failing taxidermy shop in the wake of her father's suicide, grief-stricken Jessa-Lynn Morton pursues less-than-legal ways of generating income while struggling to figure out her place among her eccentric loved ones.

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