Monday, December 8, 2014

"The Toy Collector" - a novel by James Gunn (Bloomsbury Books 2000)

The Toy Collector

a novel by

James Gunn

Bloomsbury Books 2000

It wasn't an accident that James Gunn burst into the public consciousness as the writer/director of Guardians of the Galaxy.  For years, Gunn has proven himself to be a fearless storyteller, highly individualistic, and full of spirit and emotional honesty. These were all elements that helped endear Guardians to millions of fans around the world.  In fact, these roots dig all the way back to 2000, years before his directorial film debut, with the publication of his first and only novel, The Toy Collector.  Without any hyperbole, it's a brilliant piece of work. 

As far removed from the epicness of Guardians as is humanly possible, The Toy Collector is a painfully honest factual-fictional account of Gunn's own life experiences.  Any protective skin has been stripped away and Gunn leaves all of his nerves fully exposed to the reader, confessesing thoughts and past actions normally locked up tight in the darkest hole in the brain. His openness is unexpected and refreshing.  The James Gunn in The Toy Collector is an emotionally damaged hospital orderly who sells stolen pharmaceuticals to fund an all-consuming toy robot obsession. The toys of adulthood - sex, drugs, and alcohol - are poor substitutes for the plastic relics of his youth. As Gunn desperately tries to escape adulthood and reclaim his lost childhood, his chemical-fueled self destruction threatens to destroy anyone unlucky enough to be caught in his orbit. 

Be warned, The Toy Collector is not pleasant, by any means.  In fact, it's pretty unrelentingly fucking brutal.  The book is a powerful ride through almost purely distilled emotions with nothing held back.  There is laugh out loud pitch black humor, gratuitous violence, bright wide eyed childhood innocence, graphic sex, and soul shattering sadness throughout. The Toy Collector is told in a non-linear narrative that randomly skips through Gunn's timeline, flashing from his despondent 20-somethings to his childhood and teenage memories. Occasionally we dive straight into the surreal blur of pure childhood playtime, where imagination and reality magically meld as kids work through their kinks with their action figures.  Gunn's writing is vivid and the words effortlessly flow from the page.  It's a fascinating read.

The Toy Collector is merciless right up to the very last sentence, with barely a single thread of hope for Gunn's redemption to hold on to. But now that the real-life Gunn has created a film that has embedded itself in the imagination of kids and adults around the world, there is an added dimension to this book. The Toy Collector is an important prologue to James Gunn as a writer and  filmmaker, and reveals his raw, beating heart in a way that his movies will never be able.  And in a way, Guardians is a hopeful epilogue to the James Gunn of The Toy Collector... that he eventually earned his hard fought redemption by making peace with adulthood, but only by keeping one foot firmly in the imagination of his youth.  By keeping the two alive and close, Gunn was finally able to create something beautiful, rather than tear it down to the ground like he always did before.

Check out an excerpt from the book on Google Books HERE

The Toy Collector is long out of print, but buy a used copy or the e-book HERE.

~ art and writing by kojak   2014

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