The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
The Animators is Whitaker’s first novel, a story of two young artists out of the American South who meet in college, and become deep friends and artistic partners. Whitaker portrays their intense drive to create animated cinema, and the complex and tangled personal and professional partnership they seem to need to make this happen.
The story covers their early career in New York, Florida, and Louisville Kentucky. A lot of stuff happens, and a lot of it is pretty awful. They work like crazy and, well, live like crazy, too. I’m assuming that this is a realistic portrayal of “the artist as a young woman.”
The artistic achievements cannot be separated from the deep, confused, and troubled friendship. Sure, they need each. And they also want each other and love each other (not sexually). But it’s not clear they understand each other, despite their intense close work together.
Whitaker tells about the deep personal meaning and the deep personal cost of their art. Mel and Sharon are all about ‘courage’, and both think that telling their innermost secrets is important, because that is the only way to break out of their horrible past. If this sounds painful, it definitely is.
There is a lot of pain in this novel. Mel and Sharon achieve considerable success, but success is no shield from bad things happening.
“I know what Mel and I did with memory. We ran our endurance dry with our life stories, trying to reproduce them, translate them, make them manageable enough to coexist with. We mad them smaller, disfiguring them with our surgeries. We were young. We did not know what we were doing” (p. 351)
If there is a lesson in this story, it has to be to be good to the ones you love right now, because they may be gone soon.
“Your life is the people you fill it with….And nothing’s good without them.” (p. 308)
I found this a well written and haunting story. We care about these two kids, smile for the good times, root for their loves, cringe at their mistakes, and ache with their pain. It is excruciating to watch in places, because they really, really, didn’t know what they were doing.
I certainly look forward to more from Whitaker.
- Kayla Rae Whitaker, The Animators, New York, Random House, 2017.
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