Read This Book

Read This Book: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is a bit of a strange one, and I admit that it won’t be for everyone. But if you’re not easily squicked out by animal grossness and you like messy protagonists, it’s absolutely a must-read! (Content warning: Animal death/peril, blood and gore related to taxidermy, suicide, and I can’t remember any others, sorry!)

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Jessa-Lynn Morton has been trying to maintain her grip on her family ever since her father died by suicide, and it’s not going well. Jessa steps up and takes over her family’s failing taxidermy business, struggling to keep it afloat and find new clients even while her mother seems to be sabotaging Jessa’s efforts by rearranging the animals in erotic scenes every time her back is turned. Meanwhile, Jessa’s brother grows more and more distant, and Jessa’s niece and nephew are largely unsupervised after the sudden disappearance of their mom, Brynn. Jessa is struggling to come to terms with Brynn’s absence as well: Jessa was in love with her, and she and Brynn carried on a sexual relationship both before and after her marriage to Jessa’s brother. As things get dire for the Morton family, Jessa will need to learn that the key to keeping them all together is to cede control.

Arnett’s writing is very sharp, funny, and unexpected. She moves back and forth between the present and Jessa’s past with Brynn to tell the story of a very dysfunctional family trying their best, and how Jessa’s preconceived notions about herself and those closest to her are sometimes her biggest adversary. It’s hard not to feel for her as she tries to do everything “right” in the wake of tragedy and tremendous guilt, and it takes a while for her to understand that her process of grieving is not the same as others, and that’s okay. She makes inadvisable choices while mired in her own grief and frustration, and she is hopelessly hung up on a woman who has never treated her well, but she also cares deeply. Her love is what made me root for her, even when she said or did things that I couldn’t get behind. This is a deeply-felt, strange book about love, grief, and family that will certainly stick with you.

Bonus: If you like Mostly Dead Things, Arnett just released a new novel called With Teeth! I haven’t read it yet but I am excited to pick it up.

Happy reading!

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