Mostly Dead Things
Booklist Reviews 2019 April #2
*Starred Review* Jessa-Lynn Morton grew up and stayed put in central Florida, learning taxidermy from her father and then keeping his shop afloat after he commits suicide. She drinks too much and helps raise her niece and nephew after their mother, Jessa's sister-in-law and also, inconveniently, the love of her life, abandons them. Her mother makes obscene art using animals Jessa has preserved. Making a list of what's quirky about this debut novel from Arnett, author of the story collection Felt in the Jaw (2017), is too tempting to resist, but these quirks also serve as the novel's starting points. Arnett's writing cuts through all the unusualness and renders Jessa human and relatable. Jessa lives in a world of pain with little clue how to cope, and Arnett doesn't sugarcoat her or her Florida home. Both are described in unapologetically unvarnished terms: sour-smelling armpits, popped-zit gore on mirrors, garbage, rot, and roadkill. The novel alternates its storytelling between before Jessa's love abandoned the family and after. Florida animal species structure the before chapters, and their taxidermy is described in detail. The squeamish may struggle to read about Jessa's life, but readers who persevere will be both compelled and rewarded. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2019 June
DEBUT A young, openly lesbian woman named Jessa is keeping the family taxidermy shop going after her father's suicide. Under her dad's tutelage, she's become a skilled taxidermist, but the shop is losing money. Worse, Jessa's mother is acting out her grief by recrafting the stuffed specimens in the shop window into pornographic tableaux. The window displays spark interest from Lucinda, a sexy art gallery owner and potential love interest, who wants to promote the provocative art. A further complication for Jessa is the loss of Brynn, the love of her life and her brother's wife, who has run off, leaving her two children behind. And this is just the first chapter. What then unfolds is a clever debut with a Florida setting that brings to mind writers such as Karen Russell and Lauren Groff. While the book deals with sad, serious things, the tone is light, if not lighthearted, but be warned: descriptions of animal kills and dismemberments are often excruciatingly detailed.
PW Reviews 2019 April #3
In Arnett's dark and original debut, Jessa discovers her father dead of a suicide in the family's Florida taxidermy shop. She also finds a note asking her to take care of the failing business, her mother, and her brother, Milo. Additionally, Jessa mourns the loss of Brynn, her brother's (now) ex-wife and Jessa's longtime lover, who left both her and Milo years before. As Jessa grieves over her lost loved ones, she must also deal with her remaining ones: Milo sinks from the world, missing work and barely paying attention to his children, and Jessa's mother enters a late creative period, using the stuffed and mounted animals from the shop to make elaborate sexual tableaus for a local art gallery. Jessa also begins a romantic relationship with Lucinda, the director of the gallery and benefactor for Jessa's mother's newfound (and, for Jessa, "perverted") artistry. Set in a richly rendered Florida and filled with delightfully wry prose and bracing honesty, Arnett's novel introduces a keenly skillful author with imagination and insight to spare.