Unexpected and nuanced and pulsing with life, Whitaker’s debut cuts straight to the heart of the creative process.
From the minute Sharon Kisses meets Mel Vaught, the women are inseparable. Both are visual art majors with obvious talent. Both are from the rural south (Sharon: East Kentucky, Mel: Central Florida), united by their shared “white trashiness” (Mel’s words)—a rarity at their posh East Coast liberal arts college. And both have a passion, an unquenchable thirst, for comics. “I’m gonna be a cartoonist,” Mel says, the first night they hang out. “Animate. What else is there?” By graduation, they are not just best friends, but also artistic partners. Ten years later, they’re living and working together, still in a “piece-of-crap” studio in Brooklyn. They make “small, thoughtful cartoons and out-of-mainstream animation shorts for a thinking woman’s audience,” according to critics. Their first full-length feature, an autobiographical project based on Mel’s childhood, wins them an ultraprestigious grant. They are a perfectly mismatched pair: Sharon is curvy, consistent, and perpetually lovelorn; Mel is thin and gay, the life of the party. But transforming their private pasts into public art comes at a cost, and as the novel progresses and both women are struck by different kinds of tragedies, Sharon and Mel are forced to come to terms with their families, themselves, and the painful limitations of their bond. Sweeping and intimate at once, the novel is an exquisite portrait of a life-defining partnership. Whitaker captures the shifting dynamics between Mel and Sharon—between all the characters, really—with such precision and sharpness that it’s hard to let them go.
Empathetic but never sentimental; a book that creeps up on you and then swallows you whole.