The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Reviewed by Jack Cameron Stanton

‘My body runs ice-cold with the knowledge of all I didn’t see, the things I hadn’t known . . .’

xthe-animators.jpg.pagespeed.ic.t5-Vkv8LCqWhen I finish Kayla Rae Whitaker’s debut novel The Animators I feel as though my heart’s been jammed into a washing machine and spun around full cycle, but even after it spits me out I want to jump back in and go for another ride. This washing machine doesn’t comprise the usual socks, jumpers, or bath towels; it’s packed with heartbreak, tragedy, and convalescence.

It is the story of an animation duo, Sharon Kisses and Mel Vaught, who take the world by storm with their inventive, raw, and idiosyncratic style of cartoons. While their animations are heralded as a fine dual-creation, their personalities couldn’t be further apart: Sharon, our focaliser, is quietly ambitious and meticulous, whereas her best friend Mel is wild, unpredictable, and confrontational.

Their breakthrough feature film, Nashville Combat, documents with harrowing honesty the life of Mel’s recently deceased mother – an ugly, unkind portrait at best – and it doesn’t take long for skyrocketing popularity to start unravelling their previously bulletproof friendship. Mel rocks up loaded to a TV appearance and proceeds to humiliate and bully the panelists. She drinks for days without sleep. Rumours surface that Sharon is being held back by her volatile counterpart, causing her to become suspicious, distant. It all seems to be coming undone – until a vicious, unpredictable tragedy strikes, and the friends are forced to bind together again.

But after the tragedy, Sharon and Mel unearth secrets from each other’s past, and decide whether their next project, Sharon’s most personal yet, and its destructive ramifications, is worth it.Kayla Rae Whitaker_©MarkBennington-1

So begins the toughest decision of their lives: as animators what is more important – reality, or art? Which one decays so the other might bloom?

In the spirit of wildly popular books such as A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Kayla Rae Whitaker offers a breathtaking glimpse into the madness of a life devoted to art. She accomplishes what all more literary-minded novelists strive for: representing reality with a dreamy sheen, a sense that the stakes are higher, the emotions rawer, and yet alive nevertheless.

Another exciting component of Kayla’s novel is her exploration of the varying levels of love – in this book I’m thrown back to that old adage about turning stones, when it comes to her treatment of love. Sharon and Mel come from loveless pasts – family lives dysfunctional at best, destructive at worst – which only heightens their fondness for each other. But can love become distraction? And can old lovelessness be mended into something new and full? This is tough, of course, because Kayla’s protagonists constantly resist reality, are uncomfortable in its parameters, and, like most artists, feel most peaceful when they’re in love with their work, not others. And for two inseparable best friends, Sharon and Mel are no doubt plagued by the solitude of artists.

Here is the ultimate reason why The Animators comes so highly recommended from me: it reels you in, offering this entertaining world of two friends championing the animation world, exciting with their conflating personalities and growing resentment of each other – then darts elsewhere, with tragedy as its catalyst. It is a story of affirmation, of redemption, and of love. It leaves an afterglow that has you questioning, opening the book to previous sections and seeing whether you had missed something so vital, so painfully obvious by the end, just as Sharon had.

I won’t tell you much more about what else happens, because there’s a certain joy in its unexpectedness; what I will say, however, is that Kayla is erudite beyond her years, and has convinced this humble reviewer to keep a watchful eye for her in the future.

Grab a copy today, read the opening pages, or head over to Scribe Publishing for more fantastic new releases!

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                  Publisher details

                  The Animators
                  Author
                  Kayla Rae Whitaker
                  Publisher
                  Scribe
                  Genres
                  Debut, Fiction
                  Released
                  27 February, 2017

                  Synopsis

                  From age eighteen on, I had a partner, a kindred spirit. I had a friend. Someone bound and determined to keep me from the worst in myself.At a private East Coast college, two young women meet in art class. Sharon, ambitious but lacking confidence, arrives from rural Kentucky. Mel, brash and wildly gifted, brings her own brand of hellfire from the backwaters of Florida. Both outsiders, Sharon and Mel become fervent friends, bonding over their love of classic cartoons, their dysfunctional working-class families, and — above all — their craft: drawing. Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.A decade later, Sharon and Mel are an award-winning animation duo, living and working in Brooklyn, and poised on the edge of even greater success after the release of their first full-length feature. But with this success comes self-doubt and cracks in their relationship start to form. When unexpected tragedy strikes, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.Funny and heartbreaking by turn, The Animators is a dazzling story of female friendship, the cost of a creative life, and the secrets that can undo us.About the AuthorKayla Rae Whitaker was born and raised in Kentucky. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and of New York University’s MFA program, which she attended as a Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholar. She lives in Louisville. The Animators is her first novel.
                  Kayla Rae Whitaker
                  About the author

                  Kayla Rae Whitaker

                  Kayla Rae Whitaker was born and raised in Kentucky. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and of New York University’s MFA program, which she attended as a Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholar. She lives in Louisville. The Animators is her first novel.

                  Books by Kayla Rae Whitaker

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