Blot Lit Reviews: Animation by Evan Guilford-Blake
Evan Guilford-Blake’s second novel, Animation, focusses on the struggle of Adonis Agystyn, or Aggie as he prefers to be known, to cope with the reduced circumstances he has found himself in:
“There are only thirty-five, forty apartments all told, and he sees two or three U-Hauls in the alley around the first of every month. The leases are for a year, and most of the people move out when their year is up, as though the building were just a way station. Another part is that so many of them are young—people who are, in fact, making the first transition of their lives. There are a few older residents, too, people who have lived here for years— Section 8s. And a few young married couples and a couple of roommate situations, but the apartments are all one bedrooms and studios and thus most are occupied by singles, either newly on their own or newly single. Like him.”
Aggie’s problems are not just financial: he has to overcome divorce as his ex-wife is now engaged to a man with a much brighter future than he’s ever had; he’s unemployed at the age of fifty-seven with little prospect of finding an accounting job he’s qualified for; and let’s not forget “the belly, and the wrinkles, and the watery eyes, and incipient baldness.” In short, “his life means nothing.”
What unfolds over the next 384 pages is essentially the domestic drama of Aggie seeking to get his life back on track one step at a time. Guilford-Blake avoids heaping layer upon layer of humiliation onto his lead character as Arthur Nersesian did in The Fuck-Up, for example. Instead the humiliations are low-key but realistically drawn as we gently roll through Aggie’s mid-life crisis.
Aggie is the type of person that life happens to and not someone who tries to really take control of events, and this passivity can occasionally create an unsatisfying read. The two most dramatic events within the book—a car accident and a death—do not just not happen to Aggie, but are a couple of steps removed, leaving him responding to events rather than appearing to shape them. Any luck that happens to him throughout Animation is not of his own making.
This is not to say that nothing of note happens over the course of the book, rather that Guilford-Blake chooses to tackle them at a leisured pace. The bulk of it is set over a four week period and the set pieces within it are given the chance to breath and be properly explored. For example, a disastrous date over the course of an afternoon and evening occupies three chapters.
Nor is it to say that Aggie is an unsympathetic character. The way he picks himself up and dusts himself off through the book is admirable. He is also very self-aware, and elicits much sympathy with the soul searching that he undergoes when seeking to understand how he has ended up alone in a cramped one bedroom flat, uit also evaluate his entire life. There is a sense, not just from his son, (“Jesus fucking Christ, Mom,” he’d said, “he’s my father but he hasn’t done anything, not one damn thing, with his life, and he’s kept you from doing anything with yours.”) that he wasted his life.
Guilford-Blake juggles Aggie’s trials and self-reflection well, and he skillfully manages to push the reader into cheering Aggie on rather than pitying him. This is backed up by an unfussy, straightforward writing style: there are few literary flourishes or fireworks here. Unsurprisingly for someone with so many plays to his name, Guilford-Blake’s dialogue is realistic and engaging.
However, in pursuing such a realistic and detailed telling of Aggie’s story, Guilford-Blake sometimes interrupts the flow of the book too much with a didactic telling of his routine over and over again (“He decided to have dinner: another chicken breast”, “Aggie can’t bear the thought of another chicken breast”, “he makes a chicken breast and slices a tomato”.) Combined with Aggie’s passive nature, this leaves a book that does not have a lot of drama, but Animation is smart, thought provoking and emotionally honest.