Review: The Toy Collector, by James Gunn

As the screenwriter of films like Dawn of the Dead and Tromeo & Juliet, one would kind of expect James Gunn to be kind of a nut. His freshman novel, The Toy Collector (Bloomsbury, 2000) certainly seems to back up that assumption. I don’t want to lay too much blind credence in assumptions involving this trippy, grim, sexual foray into the effect of childhood trauma (after all, it is The Toy Collector, a novel not The Toy Collector, James Gunn’s all-inclusive autobiography) but I have often found that authors are often like serial killers—the first kill is usually someone the killer knows or, in the author’s case, it’s usually what they know, what they’re most comfortable with, that which is most easily accessible. And in this case at least, Mr. Gunn has named his narrator after himself—whether or not that makes him a reliable narrator is another thing.

The amount of drug and alcohol abuse explored is uncontrolled and hallucinogenic, so the reader cannot always trust what Jimmy is or is not seeing. On top of this, the character of Jimmy Gunn manages to villainize almost every secondary and tertiary character, but without promoting his own characters’ merits, of which there are none. It is his love for and his respect for the toys of his youth (and the friends of his youth) that are peraps the only endearing aspects of Jimmy Gunn’s character. It is the memories of these that we find the kernels that make you keep reading page after page. They're what drew me to the book to begin with--there’s an orange robot on the cover! An orange robot walking a rocky planetary surface.

The novel reminds me of my uncle. I mean, not the drugs, booze and sex parts which, if they existed, I do not currently know, nor would I want to know anything about it. But the toy part: he has a bunch of toys and movie memorabilia (mostly "Lost in Space") and when he talks about it, his face lights up, and he’s a kid again. He’s reclaimed his inner child. I’d like to think that this novel is exactly that for the real James Gunn. Just like Jimmy’s father Bill with his doll, Billy. Jimmy has given something back to James. I’m choosing not to continue the serial-killer metaphor, here.


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