The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Publisher: Random House (January 31, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
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 male-dominated field of animation, Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses are a dynamic duo, the friction of their differences driving them: Sharon, quietly ambitious but self-doubting; Mel, brash and unapologetic, always the life of the party. Best friends and artistic partners since the first week of college, where they bonded over their working-class roots and obvious talent, they spent their twenties ensconced in a gritty Brooklyn studio. Working, drinking, laughing. Drawing: Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.
Now, after a decade of striving, the two are finally celebrating the release of their first full-length feature, which transforms Mel’s difficult childhood into a provocative and visually daring work of art. The toast of the indie film scene, they stand at the cusp of making it big. But with their success come doubt and destruction, cracks in their relationship threatening the delicate balance of their partnership. Sharon begins to feel expendable, suspecting that the ever-more raucous Mel is the real artist. During a trip to Sharon’s home state of Kentucky, the only other partner she has ever truly known—her troubled, charismatic childhood best friend, Teddy—reenters her life, and long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.
A funny, heartbreaking novel of friendship, art, and trauma, The Animators is about the secrets we keep and the burdens we shed on the road to adulthood.
After reading the description, I thought I was getting into a sort of highbrow hipster chick-lit narrative. It was in some ways, but this novel surprised me. Yes, it was definitely written with wit, but not to a fault. Certain scenes felt hyper realistic - especially ones that revolved around Mel and her antics, as if she was a dark version of the manic pixie dreamgirl. And sometimes I felt that it got mired in it's own intellectualism: I felt it difficult to visualize the animation in my head based on the very niche language used to describe the process, and all the cult animation talk smacked of elitist Rob on music in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. However, just as Rob becomes a dear literary figure, so do Mel and Sharon. As the pretentious layers gets stripped away, various unexpected truths emerge about both of these vulnerable characters, and I couldn't help but empathize with them despite their flaws.
There is a lot of heavy stuff to ponder as they mine their personal lives for art, and I think it will stay with me for awhile. What makes a shared experience our story to tell? How much does reality mirror the life we live inside our heads? Does rehashing past trauma exorcise our demons or exacerbate them? How does that process affect our loved ones? How much do we really know the people closest to our hearts? This story took so many unexpected turns, and some horrible ones, that it took my breath away. There's an aura of melancholy throughout the book and I would caution anyone with emotional or traumatic triggers to research it before reading. It chewed me up and spit me out, but in a good way. It was an engrossing and indelible read.
Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for an advance copy for my review.