Contemporary Literature

The Animators

Between it’s eye-catching cover and rave preliminary reviews, there was no way I wasn’t going to read this. Plus, animation is a topic I haven’t read/seen many books about, so that added “newness” pushed right past any reservations I might have had (though to be honest, I don’t think there were any – it just ended up being an added bonus). I was hooked from page one.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker 

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“Wow, what a debut! I could not put this book down. The story, the characters – they were so alive I felt that I was reading about them in a magazine, or watching an E! True Hollywood Story, not in a work of fiction.  The heart of this story is the intertwined hearts (and lives, and loves) of two very talented, very broken women, who use each other to lean on, to make each other whole, to protect themselves, to help build their own self-esteem, to lose each other in.  All of it taken to extremes, because that’s just who they are. And through it all, there is nothing, and no one, that can separate them from each other – they are each other’s whole lives, the only ones that really understand for better or worse.

Whitaker does a frighteningly accurate job recognizing, calling out, things we most want to ignore about ourselves and our memories. Sharon’s feeling of inadequacy next to Mel – an imposter syndrome that many of us can so closely relate to.  The guilt of holding others back and then the added guilt that those same people are always the ones that have to spend time/effort convincing us that it’s otherwise. The complications of sexual relationships, the balance between that kind of love and the love you have for a best friend/business partner/the other side of your coin. Where is your loyalty and how can you share it? The family relations Sharon and Mel both hate, but cannot seem to shake. Mel’s mom’s death, and the possible role Nashville Combat, and Mel herself, may have played almost breaks her. And it brings into sharp relief that no matter what she says or wants to think, she still loves the woman. When Sharon loses both Teddy and Mel and, even though she ran far and long to try and forget the past and forget her family and forget how she felt when she lived there, her mother was the one person who took the time and put out the effort to bring Sharon out of her sorrow. Both of them learn so much about the way the mind idealizes the things we remember fondly (Mel after death, Teddy) and demonizes that which we remember negatively (the photos, family relations) – it’s human nature to search and create those extremes. And even more so, potentially, for them, who use that as a starting place to create their art. Damage and inspiration are such a fine line to walk – and we see that so clearly in Mel and Sharon, their relationships, their decisions, their art.

“How deep the hole goes.” (p. 139) The exploration of this line right here is pretty much, for me, the bottom line that this entire book is about. Mel and Sharon trying with everything they have to figure out how deep their hole(s) go(es). And it seems to be the author’s suggestion that that’s what art is: the artist trying to figure out how deep a hole goes. That’s where the inspiration stems from and that’s what the goal of the work is – to find that ending. And that exploration, that search, going that deep – we can lose ourselves, both Mel and Sharon almost did. And if we look at real life, I bet if we looked at the author’s own story, we would see a similar pattern. And we are forced to think about, as readers, if it’s worth it. And if, in the end, that’s even something an artist, any person, has a choice in.

In the end, separate from the perfect dialogue, the phenomenal pacing, the creative details, the sharp language, and the absolute truths of the story itself, we are left with the harshly relatable bare bones: the tale of a beautiful, raw relationship between two people trying to come to terms with their pasts and accept their present, separately and together. If you’ve ever fought with your family, ever had a bad relationship, ever felt you didn’t belong, ever had a burning passion and need to create, ever tried to make sense of your past, ever lost someone important to you…basically if you’ve ever lived, you should read this. But, if you’ve ever had that one friend that you truly, deeply, completely get, no matter what happens, what changes, or how many layers of stories and experiences are piled onto you, then you must read this.”

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