New Animal is a poignant, darkly comedic look at human connection from a biting and original new voice in Ella Baxter.
Amelia Aurelia is approaching thirty and her closest relationships ― other than her mother ― are through her dating apps. She works at the family mortuary business as a cosmetic mortician with her eccentric step-father and older brother, whose throuple’s current preoccupation is with what type of snake to adopt. When Amelia’s affectionate mother passes away without warning, she is left without anchor. Fleeing the funeral, she seeks solace with her birth-father in Tasmania and stumbles into the local BDSM community, where her riotous attempts to belong are met with confusion, shock, and empathy.
Hilarious and heartfelt, New Animal reveals hard-won truths as Amelia struggles to find her place in the world without her mother, with the help of her two well-intentioned fathers and adventures at the kink club.
Ella Baxter’s debut novel, New Animal, establishes her as a writing force. From the very beginning, when we are introduced to Amelia Aurelia, I knew that I was in for a story and a character that I was going to love. Amelia is the makeup artist for her family-run funeral home, has a brother who is in a throuple, a mother she loves, and dating apps where she hooks up with random men to feel alive. When her mother suddenly dies, she runs off to her father’s house and gets caught in a world of BDSM. In the end, there are moments where her story fluctuates between extremely funny and extremely heartbreaking.
What I love most about this novel is that Amelia is written in such a genuine way. Her actions and her reactions to things, particularly her mother dying, feel true. There are times when she gets herself into dangerous situations, but these actions and reactions are completely real to the character that Baxter creates from the first page. Amelia does not do a single thing that does not make sense. She is someone filled with grief, even before her mother dies, and her way of coping has always been about men and sex. Her mother dying makes her reach out to grieve the only way she knows how, even if it is unhealthy. Amelia is one of the strongest, most genuine characters I have read in a while, so much so that this is one of those rare books when you wonder how much of Amelia is in Ella Baxter and how much Ella Baxter is in Amelia.
This is not to say that this is extremely funny. For as serious as this story is about empathy and grief, there is a great deal of humor. This seems like a natural reaction as well. There are many people who joke at a funeral and around death. Healthcare workers might have some of the darkest humor I have ever seen. The term “gallows’ humor” is not something that was just made up. When confronted by death, many of us turn to inappropriate jokes and actions because it helps our mind cope with the reality of the situation. Ella Baxter does this well. Instead of being completely serious about the fact this story revolves around death and the actions because of it, Baxter uses the same humor that many people who work around death and dead people use to help us cope to keep from being swallowed by the depths of grief and sadness of the job.
Ella Baxter’s book should not be missed. Amelia is one of the greatest characters I have read in a long time. Even though the subjects of the novel are very serious, any book that can balance sex and death with this level of dark humor without losing the overall sadness is one that should be read.