I was first attracted to John Dermot Woods’ The Complete Collection of People, Places and Things both because of its intriguing title and a synopsis of it I’d read mentioned some of its characters by name - such as Optimus Prime, Danger Mouse, and Rainbow Brite. I’d read that they live in a strange town, that they cherish odd things like Velcro, chopsticks and stilts, and that Optimus Prime was the town’s mayor and his assistant (or perhaps the character behind the scenes, pulling the strings) was named Bear.
Reading the description was more than enough to make me want to read the book, and it’s an... interesting piece of literature. I’d say it’s bizarre enough, peculiar enough, so I would not hesitate to recommend it to people - but it’s not exactly the sort of book I thought it’d be. My preconceptions, I’m sure, are to blame, but I had my mind set that the novel would be one sort of book, and it turned out to be a quite different one - still a good one. So, although I liked reading The Complete Collection of People, Places and Things, I didn’t really love reading it for various reasons I discuss here.
What did I think the book would be like? I thought that toys and inanimate objects would come to life, that the story would be a kind of twisted version of Pixar’s Toy Story flicks. The characters would all live in their own cartoon-like town, and the actual toy Optimus Prime would rule over the little hamlet, meting out justice. The cartoon versions of Danger Mouse and Rainbow Brite would be there, and somehow, though the conglomeration of diverse cartoon characters wouldn’t ordinarily seem to work well together except in the fevered imaginings of a cartoonist who’s either a genius or on crack, they would perfectly fit together and make for a pretty cool novel.
What is the book actually like? Each chapter, or short story, is prefaced by a cartoon of an actual person or thing drawn by the author, and the cartoons do not depict Optimus Prime from The Transformers, nor Rainbow Brite, nor Danger Mouse, etc., but of people who happen to have these names. The chapters/stories are all related, and certain characters recur, but each chapter/story is a very short, two-to-three page story, character study, or vignette in and of itself - not one plot plus subplots leading logically from Point A to Point Z, as you’d expect from most books and stories, either. This seems to be more about the characters and goings-on of a very messed up town, the rise and fall from power of its mayor (Optimus Prime), the laws he makes, and the culture that forms in the town.
I liked reading about these things, and the laws made about using chopsticks to eat with which leads to the townspeople coveting especially fancy chopsticks they see in store windows, and laws requiring everyone to use stilts to get around town. But the ideas, since they’re in such short presentations, don’t get a chance to be developed very far. They are brought up, but the ultimate point seems only to point out the absurdity of the town the author has created - and, by extension, the everyday lives of most people everywhere. Absurd ideas and causing readers to ponder things and ideas in their own experience that are absurd is great, and I love reading literature about these subjects.
The Complete Collection of People, Places and Things is a fun and entertaining book that exposes the absurdity and silliness of our lives through the strange lives of its characters. It isn’t the type of absurdness and silliness conjured by my preconceived notions of the book prior to reading it, but it’s well-written and twisted enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind laughing at his or her own foibles and noticing the everyday sort of bizarre we all face on a daily basis. I look forward to reading more from John Dermot Woods.