Fiction · New Title Tuesday · Reader's Advisory

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The New Title Tuesday selection, The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker, comes highly recommended so I felt compelled to check it out – and I’m glad I picked up this tale of friendship and art.

AnimatorsSummary:In their first year of college, two young women, one from a Florida swamp, the other from a Kentucky holler, both outsiders at their prestigious east coast college, meet in “Introduction to Sketch” and become instant best friends. A decade later, Mel and Sharon’s lives remain intertwined, but so much else has changed. Now a semi-famous New York filmmaking duo, they draw upon their own pasts to make intimate animated movies, a process that has left their personal lives–including their friendship–in tatters. When tragedy strikes, Mel and Sharon must return to their home states to confront long-buried secrets and try to restore damaged relationships with their families, lovers, and each other.

Whitaker describes how art influenced the characters’ early years.  In the following intimate scene, Sharon recalls how she and Mel first discovered their shared love of specific (obscure) animated shows:

“The Maxx was my favorite show, that summer I was ten, in the days of our house’s fuzzy, unreliable cable. Not something my parents would have let me watch, had they been paying attention. The story of a superhero living in two separate but real dimensions: a grimy, dangerous metropolis in which he is homeless, and a wild jungle landscape in which he battles dark forces to protect his jungle queen, who in the city is his traumatized social worker.

It aired late-night when kids my age were supposed to be in bed. Alone in the living room while everyone else slept, I consoled myself in the light of the TV.

“Well, shit. I knew you had good taste,” Mel said. “I got it. Let’s break it out, man.”

She found the tape, slipped it in.

The screen lit with the eerie off-black of prelude. The hairs on my arms stood up. It was like being in the room with a ghost. The screen crackled, two or three lightning bolts cutting through the high fuzz of the analog. Mel had taped it from her TV.

I was suddenly back in my parents’ house, alone in front of the Magnavox, back when television had an end: the time of night at which it, and by extension we, went off the radar. The CBS affiliate played the national anthem, the flag rippling in the sky over idyllic shots of farmland and mountains. And then, the screen cuts to the green, creeping Doppler radar, the dread at the dead, single-note tone of sign-off.

It was while watching the show that the idea of being any kind of artist first occurred to me. Being wrapped in that story was the furthest I had ever been away from myself. That something could lift me out of my skin like that was a revelation. When I watched, I was able to discorporate—a word I would learn, and love, later on. I wanted that portal for myself, strange and private and good. “

The scene ends with Sharon describing how she thought of Mel at that moment:  “She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen. It was enough to indebt me to her forever.”

In The Animators, the author creates a unique story of friendship, career and collaboration between artists.  As Glynnis MacNicol states in her New York Times review, “There’s been no shortage in recent years of narratives exploring the complicated and often intense friendships that develop between women. But in “The Animators,” Whitaker has given us something we rarely see: a relationship between two women that also revolves around business and art. It’s a connection that in many ways resembles a marriage — a shared life, passion and progeny (in this case their artwork), with all the requisite compromises and envy that go along with coupledom — despite the two never being romantically involved.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/03/books/review/animators-kayla-rae-whitaker.html

Be it the question of ownership of one’s personal story or the transformative power or art, there is a good deal to consider in The Animators.

Happy Reading, Susan C.

More about the author from her website:

“Kayla Rae Whitaker’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, BODY, Bodega, Joyland, The Switchback, Five Quarterly, American Microreviews and Interviews, and others. She has a BA from the University of Kentucky and an MFA from New York University. After many years of living in Brooklyn, she returned to Kentucky, her home state, in 2016 with her husband and their geriatric tomcat, Breece D’J Pancake.”

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