It was supposed to be another normal day at work. But when Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into her family’s taxidermy shop, she discovers that her father has killed himself on the very slab that they do their jobs on every day.
The scene is a fittingly grotesque and unexpected opener for Mostly Dead Things, a morbid, inventive and darkly funny new novel by fiction writer and essayist Kristen Arnett.
What follows is an engrossing exploration of grief, love and family, as the Mortons try to pick up the pieces after the death of their patriarch. Jessa throws herself into her work, taking over the taxidermy business and longing to make her father proud—even posthumously. Her mother, Libby, takes to creating “art” that includes posing the shop’s taxidermy animals in sexually explicit positions, and the results are both hilarious and stomach-twisting. (One particular work features a photo of Libby’s deceased husband and a stuffed boar.)
Meanwhile, Jessa’s brother Milo essentially checks out of his life, struggling to care for himself and his children. He’s also still reeling from the sudden departure of his ex-wife, Brynn, even though she left years earlier.