Title: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
Genre: Contemporary, Family, Drama
Rating: 4 Stars
The opening to Mostly Dead Things was interesting as we are introduced to Jessa-Lynn and her brother, Milo. Their father is a taxidermist running a business he inherited from his own father and he has slowly been teaching his children the trade. He had been hoping for Milo to take over but he believes that Milo is too sensitive and begins teaching Jessa who is very similar to her father. We see some great moments between father and daughter but this is overshadowed when Jessa finds her father’s body after he commits suicide. In his suicide note he leaves the business which now has a lot of debt to Jessa and this is where the story really begins. A year after their father’s death Jessa is running the business, dealing with alcoholism and a seemingly mad mother. Milo has had to deal with his wife leaving him five years earlier and their children and Brynn happens to be the woman that Jessa was in love with too. The siblings don’t know how to cope with their mother who seems to be going with the father’s death by using the stuffed animals to make increasingly erotic “art” which Jessa despises but it does help her sell a particular piece which she can use to keep the business afloat despite Milo telling her they should consider selling it. There is also some incredible tension between these siblings and I am excited to see what happens.
As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel, we learn more about the siblings and their strained relationship. It turns out that Jessa was dating Brynn first and even when Brynn began dating and eventually married Milo and had kids with him she was still seeing Jessa. Both siblings seem to know of Brynn’s involvement with the other and they don’t really talk about it even now. Jessa hasn’t really been with anyone else seriously although she’s had many one night stands. The woman who buys a piece from her, Lucinda Rex expresses an interest in working with their mother to collaborate on some pieces. Jessa doesn’t think this is a good idea for their mother despite it giving her the opportunity to see more of Lucinda but Milo disagrees. Milo ends up telling their mother about the offer which annoys Jessa but she wants to see Lucinda again. Both siblings also seem to have a crush on this woman but we don’t see more of that right now. We do get to see Milo’s relationship with his daughter, Lolee which doesn’t seem to be great since she resembles hey mother in a lot of ways but he has a decent relationship with Brynn’s son, Bastien who he raised as his own.
As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel, we see that everyone in the family is struggling to move except maybe the mother. During an argument about her mother’s art Jessa mentions that her father wouldn’t have liked it. Her mother responds by explaining that their father controlled every aspect of her life during their marriage and now that he’s dead she’s free to be her own person again which Jessa definitely isn’t happy with. We can see that Milo is a lot like his mother whereas Jessa is a carbon copy of her father which doesn’t seem to be a good thing in this situation. As we delve deeper into the family’s dynamics we can see there are a lot of issues that have been pushed to the back of people’s minds rather than dealing with them. Jessa reflects more and more on her relationship with Brynn and how she became aware of Milo’s feelings for her and how she resented him for that since Brynn was hers first. This resentment had carried on throughout their life as Brynn seemed to be building a happy life with Milo until she met someone else and ran away but while Jessa is happy about Brynn leaving Milo in some aspects it also meant losing Brynn herself which is wasn’t prepared for.
As we approach the halfway mark in the novel, we see Jessa begin a relationship with Lucinda although she doesn’t let her in at all. Despite Lucinda staying over after their nights together, cooking and much more Jessa keeps her at a distance because she compares everyone to Brynn which isn’t fair to Lucinda. We can also what her mother’s art is doing to Jessa as she destroys some of her father’s favourite pieces for the sake of creating her own which seems devastating to Jessa. When Lucinda mentions about her mother’s unveiling of one piece before the exhibit Jessa doesn’t want to talk about and leaves before Lucinda arrives. By the time Lucinda arrives at Jessa’s mother’s home she is angry with Jessa about the way she left but Jessa just closed herself off. It seems that both she and Milo are dwelling on the past and refusing to move on even when good things are coming their way because they feel that they don’t deserve them. I did like Jessa’s relationship with Bastien as he is a lot like hey and since he got out of rehab she offered him a job in the shop. Jessa had also begun teaching him the trade because he had the temperament and skill to do it unlike Milo and she kind of uses him as the replacement for the children she will never have.
As we cross into the second half of the novel, Jessa isn’t content with her relationship with Lucinda since Lucinda is married and Jessa has been through that before with Brynn. While they do continue to sleep together for a while she eventually breaks it off especially when she won’t cancel her mother’s exhibition. Jessa also calls Lucinda’s wife and informs her about the relationship in case Lucinda was cheating on her wife. During this period Jessa descends further into alcohol and work with Milo’s kids. She realises that neither of the kids are right mentally since they been going out and killing animals in order to provide the shop with more work and it is working which is why Jessa doesn’t stop it but she is concerned about them. As she thinks on the past she tries to think about if there was anything she could have done or Milo could have done to prevent Brynn from leaving them and there doesn’t seem to be an answer since neither of them nor the kids have heard from Brynn in years. We also get more flashbacks to her relationship with her father and it seems more strained as she got older due to her father’s repressed nature.
As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel, we are getting close to heart of Jessa and her family. The shop is doing better than it has in a while but Jessa is struggling with this new version of her mother and the memories of her father that she feels are being destroyed. Despite cutting things of with Lucinda she wants to phone to see if her mother has been persuaded to give up on the show but as the night arrives she knows that isn’t going to happen. They end up getting into a fight about it where her mother destroyed the letter Jessa’s father left for her when he committed suicide and Jessa explodes at her mother refusing to go to the show. After a night of drinking she returns home and Milo showed up shortly after to tell her the gallery had gone up in flames and to see if she had anything to do with it which she didn’t. Knowing how devastated and hurt her mother would be she summons Lolee and Bastien to help her salvage whatever she can from the fire in order to give her mother more materials. While Jessa might not like the situation she doesn’t seem to be a cruel person and I am intrigued to see how the novel ends.
As we cross into the final section of the novel, Jessa begins to make things right with her mother and starts to mend the relationship with Milo that totally collapsed after Brynn left and they even discuss the fact that Jessa was with Brynn first and continued to sleep with her even after Milo married her in order to repair their relationship. After all the hardship this family has been through we are beginning to see them mend and find closure after years of repressing everything. The ending meant we saw the beginning of things becoming alright again but they aren’t perfect but then people are never perfect and weren’t meant to be. If you appreciate good character driven novels that really focus on the thoughts, emotions and memories of the characters then Mostly Dead Things would be perfect for you. As someone who loves fantasy it took me a while to get into this novel as see what its purpose was but I ended up really enjoying it.
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