“After her father commits suicide, Jessa is tasked with saving her family’s taxidermy business from going bankrupt. She also has to take care of her family’s strange problems — including her mother’s affinity for turning their taxidermy into risqué works of art. Mostly Dead Things is a fun, eccentric book with a steamy lesbian romance, ongoing sibling rivalry, and dark confessions of a family that is willing to go the mile in order to make ends meet. Stuffed with humor, heartfelt moments, and some gritty bits, Arnett’s writing will make you laugh, cry, and wonder how an author’s first novel can be so engaging and well-written!”
— Sage Cristal, UC San Diego Bookstore, La Jolla, CA
A New York Times Bestseller
A 2019 Best Book of the Year: New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, TIME, Washington Post, Oprahmag.com, Thrillist, Shelf Awareness, and more.
"This book is my song of the summer." —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
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.
About the Author
Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She won the 2017 Coil Book Award for her debut short fiction collection, Felt in the Jaw, and was awarded Ninth Letter's 2015 Literary Award in Fiction. She's a columnist for Literary Hub and her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Electric Literature, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Bennington Review, Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.
Arnett possesses all the bravery her characters dream of. There’s none of the shyness and self-consciousness of so much American fiction that masks itself as austerity. She writes comic set pieces to make you laugh, sex scenes to turn you on. The action flips from the past to the present, swimming through first love and first grief on a slick of red Kool-Aid and vodka, suntan oil and fruity lip gloss, easy and unforced. This book is my song of the summer. — Parul Sehgal
Mostly Dead Things is very Florida, very gay, and very good... a rock-solid family novel, brightened by its eccentric milieu.
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.
The writing is subtle and meditative, with the tactile weight of dense fur . . . taxidermy can, Arnett argues, bring us closer to life . . . . Arnett, transposing the metaphor out of the horror genre, closes the distance between viewer and viewed. She takes taxidermy seriously as a craft, not just as a device; she makes it real and intimate . . . it gives readers a fresh way to think about fiction itself, which lives, or half lives, on the rippling cusp of the real.
Precisely as strange, riotous, searing, and subversive as you’d want it to be. And, yes, its humor is as dark and glinting as the black plastic eye of a taxidermy ferret. . . . [A] celebration of the strangeness of life and love and loss, all of it as murky as a Florida swamp but beautiful in its wildness.
Mostly Dead Things suggests, above all else, that love is not something to be conquered, killed, skinned and mounted. It is living, and a verb. What we do for love — be it build erotic buffalo sculptures in grief-stricken homage, steal peacocks, raise someone else’s children, collect roadkill — is so much more powerful than what we think about it.
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.
Arnett depicts the Morton family’s struggles with tenderness and humanity, as well as streaks of deliciously black humor. Far more than just a book-length Florida Man story, Mostly Dead Things broke our hearts in the best possible way.
Arnett is a talented and original writer, and everybody paying attention to her work will be eagerly awaiting whatever else she has in store.
Hilarious, deeply morbid, and full of heart.
the kind of book that sneaks up on you, the kind you read until you realize you
have to pee or that the light has left the room. Her writing is accessible and
feels like reading a thought from your own brain you weren’t aware of thinking,
tapping into experiences of adulthood and gayness and longing that you might
think you were the only one to have.
Mostly Dead Things is a phenomenal novel about family, taxidermy, and queerness. You’ll devour this bizarre, brilliant book.
This slice of Sunshine State gothic has instant classic written all over it. Everything you find both weird and beautiful about Florida has been packaged up and turned into one of this year’s best debut novels.
An ambitious debut writer
with extraordinary promise, Arnett brings all of Florida's strangeness to life
through the lens of a family snowed under with grief.
An incisive and peculiar study of grief. ... Arnett writes about how we have to overcome our first understanding of the world in order to process it as an adult. She uses the language of taxidermy to explore the memories that ripple beneath our longest held beliefs.
"More than about death, it is also a novel about intimacy and wanting what is forbidden, about childhood and family, about absent parents and absent lovers, and about the secondhand self-destruction that can be wrought by ignoring cries of the heart."
A worthy addition to the new Florida canon: a highly engrossing, extremely promising, sad, and very funny first novel about sex and death.
Mostly Dead Things is one of the strangest and funniest and most surprising first novels I’ve ever read. A love letter to Florida and to family, to half-lit swamps and the 7/11, and to the beasts that only pretend to hold their poses inside us. In Kristen Arnett’s expert hands, taxidermy becomes a language to capture our species’ impossible and contradictory desire to be held and to be free.
— Karen Russell, author of SWAMPLANDIA!
If Heather Lewis and Joy Williams had a child it might be this—I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like it. There’s a gunslinger cool to every sentence, like someone is telling you the last story they’ll ever tell you. Kristen Arnett is the queen of the Florida no one has ever told you about, and on every page she brings it to a steely and vivid life. — Alexander Chee, author of HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL
Mostly Dead Things packs messed-up families, scandalous love affairs, art, life, death and the great state of Florida into one delicious, darkly funny package. Kristen Arnett is wickedly talented and a wholly original voice
— Jami Attenberg, author of ALL GROWN UP
Kristen Arnett has written a portrait of an American family grieving their dead and their living, and lovingly tearing one another to shreds in the process. Too, this is a book about salvaging, about the Mortons’ refusal to abandon what remains, to be buoys and coconspirators for one another’s hearts. Mostly Dead Things is a vicious and tender beast, alive with wry humor and the undeniable beauty of the ways we love.