Tobias Carroll | Longreads | June 2019 | 18 minutes (4,707 words)
The writings of Kristen Arnett are a beatific study in contrasts. In her fiction — namely, the 2017 collection Felt in the Jaw and her new novel Mostly Dead Things — she grapples with unruly bodies, complex emotions, and relationships both familial and romantic that have gone awry. Arnett is among a cadre of contemporary authors, such as Karen Russell and Eleanor Kriseman, who remind readers of what a stunning backdrop Florida can provide for works of fiction. And she is quite possible the only writer to ever hold a book release event in a 7-Eleven.
Jessa-Lynn Morton, the protagonist of Mostly Dead Things, has not had an easy life when the novel opens. She’s dealing with the aftermath of her father’s suicide, and is endeavoring to keep the family taxidermy business in operation while also contending with her mother’s artistic ambitions and a burgeoning relationship with Lucinda, a gallerist whose perspective on taxidermy is very different from Jessa’s more quotidian understanding of it.
Arnett’s fiction perfectly captures unruly family dynamics, the way that the same person can take on very different roles in the eyes of those closest to them, and the subtle ways in which class and economics can reshape a community over time. I spoke with Arnett about her fiction, the role of Florida in her work, and the messy line between fine art and the lowbrow. Read more…