Thursday, February 9, 2017

"The Animators"

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, BODY, Bodega, Joyland, The Switchback, Five Quarterly, American Microreviews and Interviews, and others. She has a BA from the University of Kentucky and an MFA from New York University. After many years of living in Brooklyn, she returned to Kentucky, her home state, in 2016 with her husband and their geriatric tomcat, Breece D’J Pancake.

Whitaker applied the Page 69 Test to The Animators, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Mel slaps my knee. “It’s cool. I got my demons, too. When my mom got knocked up with me, she was real dandy to do a DIY abort job because she was too cheap to go to the clinic, right? And she heard somewhere that an excess of vitamin C could kill a baby in utero. So she took a metric butt-ton of C, like orange juice injections straight up the cooter. As an adult? I almost never get sick. True story. Almost made it into the movie, that bit. But it just ended up making sweet, sweet love to the cutting room floor.”

She’s throttling her microphone now, too. I can see it loosening off the dash, unknowingly making purchase when she talks.

“It’s true,” Mel says. “It’s near impossible to overdose on vitamin C. You just end up shitting it out.”

Glynnis nearly chokes.

“Try that with other vitamins. Vitamin D? You’ll end up with a giant purple eye. Vitamin A? Testicles like pumpkins. But C? Just sluices on through, babe. Like me.”

Mel leans over the table and the microphone rips from the dash. There’s a spark, that electrical spit of a device cutting out. The sound engineer jumps up, waving his arms.

Mel says, “Crap.”

Glynnis freezes. Looks at me. And for the first time in the interview, I laugh. I laugh, and I don’t know what it means or where it’s coming from. But for once, I’m not forcing it.”

“Oh ho,” Glynnis says. “You two. I think we’ll wrap it up here.”
I don’t talk on the elevator. The silence trails us out onto Sixth Avenue.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” Mel says. “She liked us. Aside from the broken mic. Why are you so moody all of a sudden?”

“My interpretation of a good interview is one where you don’t talk about how much tail I do or don’t get.”

“I was trying to guide her away from that stupid Salon article because I was sick of talking about it. It’s called a joke.”
Page 69 of The Animators represents one of the book’s central problems at its loudest, most destructive peak: it is, at its heart, about a relationship populated by two polar opposites. Balance is forever an issue for the Vaught and Kisses partnership. The behavior of Mel Vaught, the duo’s rowdier, more outgoing half, consistently upsets this balance. She’s a brilliant artist, but often acts out in the worst ways possible, fueled by booze, drugs, and a natural penchant for sparking upheaval. And on page 69 of the book, she may or may not be high on crystal meth while ruining a highly anticipated NPR interview. Her quieter, less flamboyant partner, Sharon, subtly snubbed earlier in the interview by prestigious NPR host Glynnis Havermeyer, is letting Mel run wild as a revenge tactic, but wishing the entire exercise would end.

I find the roots of Mel’s behavior interesting. She abhors sanctimony, and if she detects even a hint of it, she is tempted to push boundaries. She has a troubling habit of testing others to see whether or not they have the ability to see through her exhibitionism to the real substance underneath, and judges accordingly. This is largely because she doesn’t like being judged. Judgment hurts. When Sharon encounters judgment, she’d rather remove herself altogether, go home, and work. I think Sharon recognizes the hurt place in Mel that pushes her to act out, and because she keeps company with her friend’s pain so well, often excuses her behavior when she is tempted not to.

Her tenderness at judgment aside, I think that Mel is a pretty liberated character. This is an incredibly rare trait for a woman. She does and says what she wants and the displeasure of others means very little to her. She is less influenced by shame and shaming than most, which was fun to write – it was a pleasure to know, at least in some measure, what that feels like. And here, too, is another probable reason why Sharon lets Mel run wild: Sharon admires her, and wishes she could have a bit of that courage for herself.
Visit Kayla Rae Whitaker's website.

Writers Read: Kayla Rae Whitaker.

My Book, The Movie: The Animators.

--Marshal Zeringue