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.
It's a sticky state of affairs, and one easily primed for tragedy, but New Animal is, if anything, more morbid screwball comedy than grief-stricken drama, fascinated as it is by the absurdity of intimacy and power across both life and death. Baxter’s prose is a heady mix of the bodily and the philosophically deadpan ... This is writing that is sharp and fearlessly chaotic, grappling with the depths humans go to for mere illusion of control. Luridly funny and always surprising, New Animal takes on the promise of catharsis—and upends it entirely.
... by turns a comedy of errors and a profound meditation on how to find mooring in the world when you have lost your anchor ... Writing about kink could be gimmicky or cringey, but Baxter imbues the BDSM scenes with just the right proportion of levity and self-awareness ... What unites death and sex is the way they force us to confront our bodies; in bringing them together here, Baxter has really written a novel about the limits of the visceral and the need for the mind to sit with the hardest truths, the worst emotional pains, rather than trying to escape them ... Passages like these are some of the frankest and most resonant I have read about what death does to the bereaved. The author has clearly dedicated herself to grappling with death in a way that feels more akin to mourning in the Victorian era than the antiseptic conventions of Aurelia’s Funeral Parlor ... In considering her preoccupations in the form of a novel, Baxter has encapsulated the agony of loss and the necessity of contending with it to find the new person you will become.
... a raw and irreverent portrait of one young woman's experience of the ways in which sexuality and sorrow overlap ... Baxter's crisp, clean prose offers a surprisingly tender look at mourning from an unusual angle. Baxter accomplishes the surprising feat of discussing often taboo topics like BDSM with sensitivity, respect and complexity. While Baxter never shies away from the darker and uncomfortable elements of both sex and grief, the novel's side characters soften the edges of her story's sharper elements. Both of Amelia's fathers, in particular, give the story its true heart, despite or because of their oddities and imperfections. And while Amelia's burgeoning self-awareness is far from complete by novel's end, readers will have a sense of witnessing quiet revelation. Darkly comedic in its first half and unexpectedly vulnerable in its second, New Animal, like its protagonist, presents a coolly casual exterior only to reveal the fragile truths at its core.