Mostly Dead Things

A debut novel of taxidermy and finding oneself by Kristen Arnett

5/5 Star Review

It’s the beginning of September, the start of a month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team is celebrating their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! If you would like to join in the festivities, there is a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month and it features five different reading challenges – check out this link for more details!

Why am I mentioning the read-a-thon on this review? One of the five challenges is to read a book by an LGBTQIA+ Author. While Mostly Dead Things is not horror, it does contain graphic details of a suicide and animal gore – things some might consider horror adjacent, a little macabre. This is not a title for those sensitive to, let’s say, the process of creating taxidermy.

Having said that – you absolutely need to read this book! It is an unputdownable story about a family finally beginning to understand each other a year after the suicide of the family patriarch. Jessa Morton has been groomed to take over the family’s taxidermy business since she was a young girl. A year after her father’s death, she is now a young woman trying to keep the business afloat and her family together. Her brother, Milo, has never recovered from the heartbreak of his wife running away with another man – nor has Jessa. Milo’s former wife was the only true love of Jessa’s life and she abandoned them both without so much as a note. Jessa’s mother is dealing with her grief in a way that no one understands – making sexually explicit dioramas out of the taxidermy in the shop’s display window. Told through flashbacks and current happenings, Arnett brings these characters to life and makes them relatable and so human – if you are not one of these characters, then you know someone just like them.

The other character in this book, the one that Arnett truly brought to life for me was Florida. Everything about this town was so real. There are a lot of authors who write novels set in Florida, but it’s a contrived reality – it’s theme parks, it’s beaches, or it’s full of over-the-top Florida Man-esque characters. As a central Florida native, I saw my home in this novel. I saw the small town people trying to get by, I saw the lakes and alligators, I saw the remnants of the Florida Cracker life that still exists. If you want a novel that’s real Florida – this is it.

Highly recommended! I absolutely can’t wait to order her short story collection, Felt in the Jaw!