Oh gosh. This book guys. This is a great book. I have definitely become the kind of person that forces books into other people’s hands — I used to hate lending books around, but then I cleaned out my parents house and donated more than four Toyota Corolla’s worth of books (yes, I filled my car with books four times, I traded another few bags at my local used book store turning books I didn’t want into fewer books that I did want, and ultimately donated another few bags to the library after the Savers near me went out of business, possibly due to my many book donations…).  And I realized two things –(1) it may be possible to have too many books and (2) man I wish I had kept those books and opened my own used book store.  Since I gave up my easiest chance to become a used bookstore owner, I probably don’t need to hold tight to every single book I own (it is a lot), I should share the great ones.

Sadly I took The Animators out of the library (okay not that sadly, I have a lot of books already…) but suffice it to say that someone is getting this book for their birthday/Christmas/Arbor Day/whatever.

The basics, this is a book about two women (Sharon and Mel) who work together as an artistic partnership and create adult cartoons.  It is sort of a coming of age, although it mostly covers the two-ish years after they begin to be a little bit famous.  You get a sort of short story (the prologue) that sets up their meeting in college, and then the book opens with them finishing their first big project to modest acclaim and winning a grant to make their next project. It is told from Sharon’s point of view.

I thought this book would be about how once you make something great, there can be a real question about whether you’ll ever make another great thing. And it sort of was, but there were also a lot of twists on that. It was kind of, to me at least, a story about feeling very lost, and then coming out on the other side, in your 30’s and realizing that you’re not clueless, that you have some advice to give to the 20 year olds following you, but maybe you’re never going to have quite the clarity you want.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS ARE COMING! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE PLOT OF THIS BOOK BEFORE YOU READ IT! ABORT! ABORT! LOOK AWAY NOW! OKAY YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

I marked so many passages of this book because I loved them. I will say, it was kind of a hilarious moment for me in that Mel’s mom dies on page 38. Oh geez, of course. Although I found myself relating a lot of Mel’s thoughts and Sharon’s observations, though not all of it.

There is a second death in this book, and even though I have warned you, I feel bad revealing exactly who it is. But I found the discussion of that death very realistic as well — it is so hard that everyone else goes on living when someone you love has died.  Nothing stops the way it should, you have to go back to work. You have to keep being alive, but suddenly you’re just different. I also really identified with Sharon’s resentment that the person she loves “now exists only in my head. . . It is idealized [name], cheap, ill-made. And that cuts most of all. In my heart of hearts, I know how much she would have hated that.” She hates that this complete person has become “a series of anecdotes.” It is so difficult to integrate that someone is gone, and to figure out how they can be gone, and to figure out what your relationship is with this new gone person.

There’s a lot about Sharon’s past as well (her past ends up being the focus of their new project) — she grew up in Kentucky, as sort of an odd duck and got a scholarship to an elite school. I enjoyed the scene where, after she’s won this scholarship, the local librarian says to her:

“‘This place,’ she said, ‘is a bucket of sand crabs. One tried to climb out, the others’ll reach up and pull him back down. Climb out of here. Don’t you dare come back.'”

I love this image, although fortunately this isn’t a simplistic, get out of hick town narrative. There ends up being a lot of complexity about Sharon’s relationship to where she’s from and who that makes her.

There are additionally just some beautifully written sentences in this book –

“And it is during lovemaking, sometimes rowdy enough to be called fucking and sometimes gentle enough to be called prayer, that we loosen our holds on ourselves enough to confess that this has never happened before, to either one of us, maybe not to anyone else ever, and we hope against hope, with gritted teeth, that there will be no end.”

This book lost, immediately, in the first round of The Morning New Tournament of Books this year. But, as one of the commenters said when people were kind of raining on Fever Dreams (which won, and I get it, because it is powerful if not delightful), we all won the tournament of books because we made all these new book friends, which for me includes my new book friend The Animators.  (This is almost enough to make me not bitter than Manhattan Beach, Sing Unburied Sing, and The Animators all got knocked out. Almost. BUT CAN YOU BELIEVE LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE WAS NOT EVEN PART OF THE COMPETITION??).

Currently reading: When They Call You a Terrorist and weighing whether to start another non-fiction or go pick up Pachinko from the library.