Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Animators

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Random House: 1/31/2017
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812989281

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 a fan.

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.

Disclosure: 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.” 

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