Mostly Dead Things

Tin House. Jun. 2019. 366p. ISBN 9781947793309. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781947793316. F
DEBUT A young, openly lesbian woman named Jessa is keeping the family taxidermy shop going after her father’s suicide. Under her dad’s tutelage, she’s become a skilled taxidermist, but the shop is losing money. Worse, Jessa’s mother is acting out her grief by recrafting the stuffed specimens in the shop window into pornographic tableaux. The window displays spark interest from Lucinda, a sexy art gallery owner and potential love interest, who wants to promote the provocative art. A further complication for Jessa is the loss of Brynn, the love of her life and her brother’s wife, who has run off, leaving her two children behind. And this is just the first chapter. What then unfolds is a clever debut with a Florida setting that brings to mind writers such as Karen Russell and Lauren Groff. While the book deals with sad, serious things, the tone is light, if not lighthearted, but be warned: descriptions of animal kills and dismemberments are often excruciatingly detailed.
VERDICT Taxidermy as a through-line may be off-putting for some, but it grabs the reader like a horror novel; it’s gruesome and yet civilized, resulting in a lifelike, if kitschy, work of art.

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