Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Any Book That Mentions Rom, Space-Knight, Can't Be ALL Bad . . .

Today's review is about a book which, while not part of the SF/Fantasy genre I gravitate towards, does contain enough geektastic references to hold my interest.

The Toy Collector by James Gunn

Jimmy Gunn is a loser; an alcoholic, drug-popping, man-slut of a loser. Jimmy is drifting aimlessly through life until his friend Billy introduces him to the wonders of toy collecting; suddenly Jimmy has a purpose in life: to own every toy robot ever made. Of course, toy collecting is an expensive habit, so Jimmy and Billy turn to the best cash-making plan they can think of: drug-peddling. Soon, their shared apartment is drowning in collectibles as Jimmy strives to recapture the magic of his youth, reliving the madcap adventures of his borderline-sociopathic childhood. His life is thrown out of its rut when he meets Evelyn, a 19-year old year who stirs within him something he hasn't felt in countless years, something which he thinks might possibly be love. But, the course of true love has never run true, as they say, and even less so for a self-destructive alcoholic with a toy fetish. Still, faced with feelings he has suppressed since a tragic occurrence in his youth, Jimmy struggles to place himself on the path to sobriety, normality, and happiness.

The Toy Collector is a darkly humorous novel of transgressional fiction, a genre which focuses on people who feel confined by society's strictures and obligations and attempt to break free from them. These attempts are typified by anti-social behavior and a breaking of societal taboos, both of which are in full force in this particular novel, which is replete with violence, substance abuse, and explicit sexual situations. The protagonist, though named after the author, bears little resemblance to him. On his webpage Gunn responds to the question “What on earth possessed you to name the protagonist of the book James Gunn?” thusly:

To this I reply I like the sound of my name, I’ve always been somewhat enamored of myself, and what better advertising for ME than having my name on every single page? I forgot Hubert Selby Jr.’s name for a couple of years after I read Last Exit to Brooklyn; but if he had named the protagonist after himself, well, it might have been a different outcome altogether. So I have a bit of an ego problem, I know that. I’m dealing with it. I’m in therapy. That’s no secret.
Gunn has also claimed that, while not necessarily factual, there are portions of the book which are "true."

I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed Gunn's wicked sense of humor; on the other, the train-wreck that was Jimmy's life often became as oppressive to me as it was to him. On the whole, I'm not necessarily a fan of non-stop self-destructive behavior; Gunn's humor helped make it more palatable, but a little of the "sex, drugs, and more sex and drugs" mentality goes a long way with me. I found the most interesting and entertaining portions of the book to be the flashback's to Jimmy's childhood; the bonding of Jimmy, his younger, equally psychotic brother Tar, and their two equally outcast neighbors was alternately hilarious, touching, and disturbing. The idea of children being so caught up in their imaginations that they can actually hear their toys talking to them is both beautiful and worrying, even more so as the elder Jimmy falls into the same trap.

In the end, I'd have to say I was just lukewarm towards this one; if you're a fan of trangressional fiction authors like Chuck Palahniuk or Brett Easton Ellis you might enjoy this, although the character of Jimmy is much more in tune with society than the protagonists of the books I've read by Ellis and Palahniuk. In fact, that might be why I had a harder time enjoying this one: with Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and the characters in Lullaby, there is an emotional distance between them and their actions, whereas Jimmy feels strongly about his mistakes, but just can't correct them. I guess it's just easier for me to read about true sociopaths than those who are trapped in less psychotic modes of self-destruction; I'm funny that way.


cedric-the-destroyer said...

You always did read some pretty F'd-up books. To this day, my favorite terminology for the penis is from a book you read in high school. I can't remember the name, but the psycho nails a couple to the floor on their hands and knees, rapes the wife then sets the house on fire. Anyway, loved it when he unleashed his "rearing, red totem." Priceless.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

I haven't the foggiest idea what book that was; it was probably Koontz, since I didn't read much horror that wasn't from him or King, and while most of King's books are very distinct in my memory, a lot of Koontz's stuff sort of blends together.

Regardless, I'm glad that my deviant reading habits could provide you with such a cherished phrase; I just hope I'm never in a situation where it becomes necessary for you to say it.