by Sara Volpi
A book floated across my desk two summers ago, its cover boasting bold film-strip colors I used to see on the local late-night channels that didn’t actually air anything after a certain point in the evening. Written above the pink, green, purple, and blue stripes were the words, The Animators, which piqued my interest because I spent many hours as a kid watching plenty of movies and cartoons. Now, after not having owned a TV of my own since college, I’ve turned to the DVD player in my old laptop, rueing the future day when I have to upgrade to a new model and lose that feature. Thanks, Apple.
I am too cheap to actually go to a movie, although I did as a teen often; our theater sold matinee tickets for $4 up until a few years ago. If memory serves, I believe that price had been hiked up from the $3.50 tickets had cost most of my movie-going career. Our family has fallen into the tradition of seeing a movie every Christmas, which, for the last few, has meant the next installment of the Star Wars saga. This tradition means that, one, there is nothing much else to do in my hometown on a holiday (the theater is always remarkably packed), and, two, we’re all suckers for Disney franchises. Only one Christmas have I gone to an afternoon matinee and stayed to watch the same movie over again. I am not ashamed to say the theater, showing Benjamin Button, was packed so tightly that my friends and I could only find seats in the very first row, craning our necks back so far to see the screen above us that we eventually all moved to the floor, laying on our winter coats. This rule-breaking might be the reason I remember that Christmas movie so well. (Earlier that day, when I’d seen Benjamin Button with the parents, we’d definitely just sat in our regular top row.) That and the whole spending something like six hours in a theater. That’s a lot of Brad Pitt in one sitting. If I like something, it’s easy for me to gobble it up on repeat for days. My younger sister has the same habit, having watched multiple movies dozens of times each. She swears she sees something new every time; catches an editorial mishap or notices a difference mid-scene she’d never before come across. She’ll filter back through the frames of a movie, saying, “There – see how the chain on her necklace is different in this shot than the one before? They totally missed that!” In the same way, my mom will make editorial comments about books she’s reading. In particular, a John Lennon biography that was so riddled with errors she couldn’t stand to finish it. Turns out, I do the same thing. Genetics, I tell you.
What can I say? We are persnickety, movie-obsessed people. You like what you like. And I know, for sure, whether I’m going to like a book within the first few paragraphs. (Movies, unfortunately, I tend to hold out hope, which means I’ve sat through some really, really dumb movies.) When I finally picked up The Animators, I thought, “This is a book I don’t want to stop reading.” And, to be honest, had I not had the typical work to do, I would still be reading it right now. Truth is, I thought I’d be done with it in time for this article, but alas. So what I’ve decided to do is write a little review here, before I even reach the halfway mark of the book (I’m so close!), and follow up with another half-review later.
You know what upsets me about movies set in the South? They never get the accent right. EVER. It’s always so painful to sit through the actors’ misplaced vowel emphasis. On rare occasions, sure, they get it right. So far, what I am enjoying about Kayla Rae Whitaker’s writing is that not only does she get that accent right, she gets the people pretty right. Now, I don’t like the trope of alcoholic dad and angry mom who bicker all the time, but heck, it’s a trope for a reason, and its mention here doesn’t have much to do with the crux of the plot for The Animators. The book centers on two female animators who have been best friends and working partners for a decade. They’ve garnered praise for an animated film they created based on the life of one of the animators, Mel, who grew up in a Florida swamp-town with a kind of bummy family life. Of course, as the creators of the film, Mel and the other animator, Sharon, say it’s a good mix of fiction and memoir. Got to keep the hapless bystanders in the story happy too, after all. From the way it’s described in the book, as if it’s a real movie, I really wanted to watch the thing.
Whitaker’s characters are alive and alert from page one, which seems pretty rare in what I’ve been reading lately. It’s not that there’s this incredible plot in this book or that it’s set in a dystopian future or whatever; the characters drive the plot and in turn draw you into their lives, however fictional they may be. (And however punny that entire sentence.) It seems books that lack characters you can latch on to will pick up the pace in the plot or provide some other balance to keep things interesting. It’s the books that have a blasé narrator that I tend to put back on the shelf. Thankfully, Whitaker as author here makes for a read that’s real enough to make you want to open the door and step in versus making an excuse to get up and leave the theater. I’ll tell you more about the book next month. Maybe you’ll have time to pick up a copy and read along with me.
About the Author:
Sara Volpi is a writer and artist working as the Literary Outreach Coordinator and Southern Kentucky Book Fest Coordinator at Western Kentucky University. She loves hearing and telling stories, traveling, and, of course, reading good books. Know of a cool literary event to share? Have an idea of one you’d like to see happen in Bowling Green? Send Sara an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.