Virtual Book Tour: The Trouble Boy, by Tom Dolby

Visit author Tom Dolby’s site.

Check out The Trouble Boy on Amazon.

For further questions on VBT, please contact the great Kevin Smokler,

Welcome to the latest edition of The Virtual Book Tour! This time around, it’s The Trouble Boy, by Tom Dolby. The author, before you ask, is not the same Tom Dolby responsible for blinding you with science, and it’s probably not until you wake up in your next life and you find your name has suddenly become John Flock-Of-Seagulls that you will understand how frequently this question is asked of him. Not that I didn’t ask. I totally asked.

Sugarcoat it, dance around it, or try and forget it as you might, the first year out of college just kind of sucks. Even if one’s own college experience wasn’t the pep rallying, homecoming, Girls Gone Wild-ing bacchanal the American collegiate experience dictates it must be — where half the time is spent binge drinking and the other half is spent in wild hijinks that deal with sticking it to that crusty old Dean — the entry into the world of the working stiff is fraught with every tension imaginable. Moving to New York multiplies that sensation by about a billion, as the sheer, crushing volume of spending this first pivotal year in Manhattan is often drowned out only by the internal static of one’s brain buzzing with the same unanswerable questions: How did I get here so quickly? Why am I living in this city? Why am I working this job? Is everyone already ahead of me? Why am I so beguiled by unanswerable questions? Why am I alone? And, though not a question: fuck.

Into this existential vacuum falls The Trouble Boy, the debut novel of Tom Dolby, which tells the story of young, precocious post-grad Toby Griffin. Toby is young and gay (and comfortably so by the time we meet him, so there’s no contending with a coming-out story here) and has recently graduated from Yale, where a rollercoaster four years began with him being institutionalized for crying suicide practically on his first day. Now that he’s graduated, he’s gained the right to use his pricey degree to work for a website devoted to covering nightlife and culture in New York. Where will the money come to keep this young upstart site running? Anyone who has been laid off since 1999 knows the answer. Luckily for me, I had the forethought and blind pride to quit my job as an editor for business-to-business newsletters for the home furnishings industry before its attempt to transition its business entirely into an online environment drove it completely out of business. Luckily for Toby, his job gets him laid and drunk for free a lot more than my job ever did. But once I did get a free trip to North Carolina, and it was totally…zzzzzzzzzz.

Judging this or any book by its cover is, I’m told, is a bad, reductive idea. It is. Requiring a pitch-y flair for the dramatic, the back cover of the paperback tells us, “At twenty-two, Toby Griffin wants it all — fame, fortune, an Oscar-winning screenplay and a good-looking boyfriend by his side. For now, what he’s got is a freelance writing job at a tanking online magazine, a walk-up sublet in the East Village and “the boys,” a young posse of preppy Upper East Siders with a taste for high fashion, top-shelf liquor and other men.”

Yeah…but no. Convenient as it is to wrap the book up in such hyperbolic terms and make it seem like a Less Than Zero for a new generation (alas, author Christopher Rice’s quote on the cover of the book likens Dolby to Ellis), The Trouble Boy is actually at its best when it is examining the simpler minutiae of the New York post-graduate experience. When Toby goes for his interview as a nightlife editor at CityStyle (I screamed out loud, “I totally applied for that job!” even though the site, clearly, is a work of fiction), he gets it because, as his future boss tells him, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but the other chick — you know, one of those types who has her own Web site and posts everything she’s ever written on it? — didn’t show, and the guy with all the experience turned out to be pushing fifty.” Hey, Pamie? Sorry you didn’t get the job.

The investment capital never comes (I know! Shocking!) and the site goes out of business. Toby is desperate for money and professional connections, though having his main character living free off his parents for a year did lower the stakes slightly, especially when it’s so easy to put a character in peril in New York just by virtue of making them pay rent. Toby takes a job with privileged film legacy Cameron Cole, which seems like it’s going to be a career maker. But the assistant life, of course, doesn’t put him in the way of any immediate success. That is, until The Night Everything Changes. Without giving anything away, there is a grand turning point late in the book that changes the course of Toby’s life. And when it does, you will see the words “your character needs a bigger turning point” written on the first round of notes on the first draft of the manuscript, though by that point the investment you’ve made in the characters is more than enough to ride you through to the end.

My own coming of age in New York maintains more than a few passing similarities with the narrator of The Trouble Boy (and I suspect the narrator of the book shares a few traits and key details of the narrative in common with the book’s author), and at no point during those first tumultuous years did I feel like I was living in the debased, dystopic hellscape Ellis depicts in his novels. Even when the book hits its climax and Toby becomes part of the tabloid insanity he’s spent a lot of the book chronicling as an outside observer, the book still tells a story a lot more universal. The lost jobs, the feeling that you don’t actually know any of your friends, the tanking dot-coms, the I-have-eight-diseases-that-will-kill-me-tomorrow scares, the screenplays you’re going to finish and bring to LA, the late nights out most of your friends don’t need to know the details of. Been there. Now as soon as I sleep with a former cast member of The Real World, I may well have enough dirt for a book of my own.

And Tom knows me and Pamie’s friends Jeff and Chad! I found that out six seconds before posting this, and it made me very happy.

Continue on The Virtual Book Tour.

Comments (