The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Random House: 1/31/2017
eBook review copy; 384 pages
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is very highly recommended.
This is a powerful novel that explores the creative process and coming
to terms with your past. It's about friendship and secrets. It's about
ambition and self-doubt. It's about fame and dark secrets. It's about
gifts and inner demons. Expect language and self-destructive behavior.
It is heartbreaking, funny, scathingly brilliant and one of the best
novels I've read this year. This is a debut novel and Whitaker just made
Mel Vaught and Sharon
Kisses met in a college art class and became fast friends as well as
artistic partners. They both came from a white trash background,
especially to their elitist college classmates. Sharon's family is in
rural Kentucky while Mel's is from Florida, where her mom is in prison.
The two, who seem to be opposites - Mel is gay and outgoing while Sharon
is straight and reticent - share a love of comics and drawing. They
become animators. Even though they may be motivated by different
desires, together they struggle and drink and smoke and work hard. After
a decade collaborating, their first full length movie, Nashville Combat, is released and they are the recipients of a prestigious grant.
Nashville Combat is autobiographical and based on Mel's childhood.
The fame and notoriety that follows their success leads to
self-destructive behavior on Mel's part and self-doubt for Sharon. Their
collaboration and friendship seems to be on the verge of imploding when
a tragedy happens that pulls the two back to an understanding of what
they mean to each other. After secrets Sharon has been keeping are
revealed, they understand how important it is for them to continue
working together. But this is just the start to their story...
There is so much more to The Animators than this brief
description. That is only the beginning. I would say it is a
coming-of-age novel, but it's more a
coming-to-terms-with-a-crappy-childhood novel. But it is also about the
secrets we keep, secrets from our past, family secrets, and how long
some of us carry the burden of those secrets. It questions which
relationships can survive revelations? How much do you have to sacrifice
for your art?
The writing is exceptional, extraordinary, amazing! All the characters
are well developed, even those briefly introduced. Sharon and Mel will
become real to you. You will know these women and their inner turmoil.
Your fingers will feel sore and you'll swear they are ink stained.
You'll have an urge to smoke. You'll laugh at the jokes. And your heart
will break. The settings are just as finely drawn and skillfully
described. Whether in Brooklyn or Florida or Kentucky, you will know
where you are. Whitaker captures the ambience; you feel the atmosphere,
smell the odors and hear the defining sounds.
The Animators is an exceptional novel.
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of the publisher/author.
And I see something I have never seen before in Mel: self-removal.
Inside, she has fled. The ability of anyone who has ever been on the
receiving end of something violent to grasp the details that remind them
of their humiliation - smells, colors, sounds - and blur these details so
that they become foreign, someone else’s property. It is a cultivated
skill, requiring time, experience, unspeakable mental real estate. It
is, for the desperate, the only chance to leave what happened with the
part of yourself that is still yours. Children learn it. Boys, but more
often, and more closely, girls. When girls learn it, they learn it for
the rest of their lives, inventing two separate planes on which they
exist - the life of the surface, presented for others, and the life
forever lived on the inside, the one that owns you. They will never
forget how to make themselves disappear. To blend into the air.
She turns, giving me her ultimate nonplussed look. “You may not know
this about yourself,” she says, “but you’ve got a serious gift for
self-containment. You run a pretty tight f*ckin ship, presentation-wise.
Kind of freaks people out.”