Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Animators: Enduring Friendship


When Thomas Wolfe used his home town of Ashville, NC in his first novel Look Homeward, Angel his portrayals of its residents were offended. You Can't Go Home Again, his posthumous novel, describes the less than warm homecoming he received afterward.

The artist's problem of how to use one's own life experiences in one's art remains a problem. Because we don't live or grow in a vacuum, telling our story necessitates talking about our relationships--and other people.

Where is the dividing line between an honest memoir and harming others? Do we have an obligation to tell our truth, unvarnished, or must we gloss over, alter, or lie to protect the innocent? Can we live with the consequences when we cause pain?

Kayla Rae Whitaker's novel The Animators is about two women who use their life stories in their animated films and bear the consequences.

The novel took me on a journey with unexpected twists and turns as I followed the friendship and working partnership of animators Sharon and Mel over ten years.

Sharon has escaped her Kentucky childhood when she wins a scholarship to an Upstate New York college,and  never looks back. She is internal, diffident, and controlled. Mel is a city girl, a party girl--talented, unvarnished, unpredictable.

They quickly bond as outsiders, becoming best friends and artistic partners. It is a relationship that both reinforces their darkness and supports them in their need.

Their animated movies flay open their souls, which Mel insists is therapeutic.Their first movie is Mel's story growing up with a mother who sold tricks or drugs to get by. Mel insists their second movie will be Sharon's story, beginning with a traumatic childhood incident, going on to her stream of bad relationships, to the stroke that nearly ended her life.

The first pages were so funny. Sharon's parents are resigned to life and their failing marriage. As she leaves for college her father thumps her on her back as if she were another guy; her mother hugs her too hard while whispering, "don't come back pregnant."

Sharon feels disassociated from the wealthy students at the private school until she meets Mel and feels a kinship to her forthright honesty, come what may. They love the same things and recognize in each other a talent for animation.

Sharon is the grounded one who keeps things in order, the clean-up lady when Mel crashes. Mel is the idea girl, the wild kid whose addictions to women, alcohol, and drugs wears Sharon down. But it is Sharon who suffers the health meltdown, and Mel reels herself in to become caretaker.

As the women deal with the burdens of their childhood, the struggles of the artistic life, and a series of failed relationships the reader is pulled into their world like a boat in a whirlpool. We don't always like Sharon and Mel, but we come to learn their burdens and respect them for their strengths.

The path to adulthood, which takes some thirty years, is hard. Sometimes we survive growing up. Sometimes we do not.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Animators
Kayla Rae Whitaker
Random House
Publication January 31, 2017
$27 hard cover
ISBN: 9780812989281