just a buncha Sad People being Sad and not much else
Mostly Dead Things was such a depressing book. No narrative is good without conflict; the problem with this book is that there was nothing in it but conflict. I genuinely cannot think of a single moment from this book that was even remotely close to positive—not a single scene or line or relationship that wasn’t drenched in sadness or angst or repressed feelings. Emotion is not dynamic in Arnett’s novel; it doesn’t have highs and lows. There are only lows and then even lower lows. All of this didn’t make for a particularly enjoyable, or even tolerable, reading experience. A novel doesn’t need to be happy to be good (in fact, I would argue for the opposite), but it also needs to present characters that experience emotion along a spectrum rather than a single point.
There is also the matter of the disappointing characters. The characters of Mostly Dead Things are going through a lot, I get that. But they are so unlikable. It felt like there was nothing redeemable about them (and the novel’s sad attempts at a resolution definitely didn’t move them to a point where it felt like they could redeem themselves). And to be clear, I don’t want to blame these characters for the trauma they’re going through, of which there is a lot—the main character finds her father’s dead body after he commits suicide AND the person she’s in love with abandons her and her brother—but I just felt like Arnett never tried to unpack and work through her characters’ trauma. It felt like the novel was saying here are characters in pain rather than here are characters in pain and here’s how they negotiate and understand the things they do because they are in pain. Arnett gives us some characters and then writes a novel where all she says is, here are my characters!! That is not a novel because that is not a narrative—that’s nothing more than just a bunch of character descriptions.
Also, I don’t think I will ever like novels about taxidermy. It’s just SO painfully on the nose. Like oh the main character is like her taxidermied animals, she, too, is trying to reanimate herself even though she feels dead!! It feels gimmicky, like the novel is straining for a depth of meaning that it doesn’t have by way of this very obvious—not to mention overdone—metaphor.
Honestly, this novel was less Mostly Dead Things and more Fully Dead Things. That is to say, it had no life.