Tag Archives: dysfuntional families

“The Animators” by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Pages:  384

Expected Publication Date:  January 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

Breathtaking, stunning debut novel!  It is amazing!  It is tragic, heartfelt, tender and brazen all at the same time.  I absolutely loved this!  I loved the journey it took me on.  I loved that I had no idea where this book was headed, but went along for a wild ride that had me laughing and crying.  There were so many areas of gray and missing pieces of information that I was itching to learn more about along the journey. These holes were so often filled in just when you thought you might not get the answers.  However, the missing pieces weren’t ever what was expected, never cliched.  This book is filled with tragedy, horrors, sadness, but also with redemption, hope and love.

The novel begins in art class with Mel and Sharon, two young women not quite fitting the usual mold at the upstate college they attend.  They are poorer, have experienced more hurt and pain, and seem to have no one.  That is, until they find each other.  They bond over old cartoons including Dirty DuckRen and StimpyClutch CargoFritz the Cat, and Heavy Traffic.  They begin working together at school and after graduation spending long days and nights working on their first movie together based on Mel’s mother, who was a drug-addicted prostitute.  They are both artists who have triangulated their futures together through their art.  Ten years later they are experiencing the success of their first film.  Mel is bold, confident, the life of the party.  Sharon is reserved, holding back, the more practical of the two.  Together they have become a great team.  They are best friends and work partners.  However, their friendship is tested by addiction, jealousy, and medical illness.

It is through their friendship with each other that they begin to rebuild themselves.  “She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen.  It was enough to indebt me to her forever.”  Their relationship is close, nurturing, subject to role reversals and also anger.

It is through their art that they come to terms with their pasts, redeeming themselves through a process of catharsis. Kayla Rae Whitaker beautifully describes how much they pour themselves into their work, how it is transformative, healing, and full of love.  It changes the way they feel about themselves, their childhoods, and it Sharon’s case it changes her relationship with her mother.

I loved the writing, the build-up of tensions, the breaking down of tensions.  I loved the power of the encounters between Sharon and her family.  It is amazing how much was conveyed with so little said, how tone and inaction spoke so loudly between them.  The characters are so vividly and fully developed, the relationships incredibly dynamic, and the storyline itself is unique, bold and exhilarating.

This book is incredible.  It has so much depth, energy, grit.  I highly recommend this to everyone!  This will make an excellent book club choice.  

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is art to Mel and Sharon?  What does it symbolize?
  2. Discuss Mel’s reaction to her mother’s death.  Do you think she feels guilty at all for creating a movie about her mother?
  3. Discuss the role of drugs and alcohol in this novel.  Who are the addicts and why?
  4. Why did Sharon keep her list a secret from Mel?
  5. Why do you think Teddy features so prominantly in Sharon’s list?  Is it because he was her first friend or because he showed her his father’s pictures?
  6. What do you think it is between Sharon and Teddy that brings them together romantically when she finds him in Louisville?
  7. Why is Teddy so upset that he is portrayed in Sharon’s movie?  Is this rational?
  8. Mel begins losing weight and drinking heavily leading up to her accidental death by overdose.  Why was she so depressed?
  9. Discuss the tension between Sharon and her mother.  How does it finally begin to ease and why?
  10. How do you think this last project that Mel had started and Sharon finally starts to put together will come together?  How do you predict the progression of the story?
  11. Was Mel in love with Sharon?

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s website

An Interview with Kayla Rae Whitaker

Fellow Blogger, Simon McDonald’s Review

“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

28214365Pages:  336

Published:  September 13, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

The opening scene is set up like artwork. You understand the background of the characters, the pace of their movements, the absurdity of their choices. You feel the heat of the summer day, understand the lives that the characters lead and the small town that they live in. You feel the music, the alcohol, the excitement, the dramatic turn of events that awaits. You feel some characters sliding out of focus while others are becoming more intensely illuminated even electrified. It’s as if a magic spell has been cast over the christening party with the the arrival of the handsome uninvited DA, his enormous bottle of liquor and love of oranges. The tension and magic builds feverishly until the kiss between Bert Cousins and Fix Keating’s beautiful wife, Beverly.

“Commonwealth” starts out as a gorgeously written story about two families disrupted so casually, so brutally by this kiss at a christening party.  The writing is so tight, so vivid, and the storyline is riveting.  It follows the lives of the children and the parents in the aftermath of divorce.  Each chapter is it’s own short story, jumping in space and time from the last. There are characters to love, to pity, to sympathize with, to worry about, to mourn for.   The characters are all so human and the essence of humanity is explored through each of them.

The chapters pertaining to the children growing up together, especially the ones taking place during the summer when all six children are together are astonishing.  They are so well written and seem to contain so much truth.  The amount of abandonment experienced by these children and hatred for their parents is astounding.  The children were on their own to do as they pleased and Albie, the youngest, was the only thing holding them back.  So, what did they do?  They drugged him.

Interestingly, this book is semi-autobiographical with many parallels to Ann Patchett’s life.  She grew up in a blended Catholic family.  Her father was a policeman.  Then, there is a chapter about how Franny becomes Leo Posen’s muse.  This writer, who is Franny’s lover, basically manipulates her life story into a novel, entitled Commonwealth, which is entirely her life and at the same time, not at all her life.

This story asks so many existential questions.  How important is a moment in time?  What would have happened if that one day had gone differently?  Would the outcomes have been similar?   What is important in the end?  How does family shape us?

As much as I adored the character development and the first three quarters of the novel, I must admit that some of the magic of it had departed by the end, for me.  The characters were dispersed geographically and emotionally.  As much as Ann Patchett gave me exactly what I wanted in the end, which was an understanding of all the mysteries and a knowing of how each character of these two families fared in life, this part was far less interesting to me.  Still, Ann Patchett is a brilliant, gifted writer and I was awed and amazed for at least the first three quarters of this book.  images-2

family-tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.   Fix tells the story of Loomis, how he died at age 29.  Which is better: to die young and healthy or old and sick?  How do he and Franny each feel about this question?
  2. Were there any characters you truly disliked?  Who and why?
  3. Why do you think that certain moments or parties are more susceptible to life-changing events or do you?  For instance at the Christening party, the lives of the Cousins’ and the Keatings’ were forever changed.  Additionally, the priest and Bonnie also came together at the Christening party.
  4. Did you realize the manner of Calvin’s death immediately or did you discover it later?  What clues were there?
  5. Discuss how each child handled and was affected by the divorce and resulting neglect.  Were there any characters that you felt were unaffected by it?
  6. Franny, the law school drop out, who loves reading, fall for Leo Posen, the acclaimed novelist.  Why do you think she is willing to share her story with him?  Is this therapeutic for her?  Is there guilt associated with it?
  7. Why is there such a cover-up associated with Cal’s death among the children?  Why is this necessary?
  8. How does Cal’s death eventually destroy the marriage of Beverly and Bert?
  9. Who are the children most loyal to in adulthood?  Who do they confide in?
  10. What do you make of Holly’s decision to live in Switzerland and meditate?  Is this therapeutic, escapist..?
  11. How are Fix Keating and Teresa Cousins affected by the divorce?  What changes does the divorce bring about in them?
  12. What was your favorite chapter (or short story) and why?
  13. Discuss the title and it’s meaning in the context of this novel.

 

Ann Patchett’s website

Jennifer Senior’s Review Published in the New York Times

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Review Published in the New York Times

Lit Lovers Discussion Questions