As an actor, Alan Cumming has long been a disarming, mischievous presence in movies like Spy Kids and Emma, full of energy and with a certain oily charm. So it comes as no surprise that his novel Tommy’s Tale is sleazy, hyper and, in its own way, quite likeable.
The book tells the tale of
twenty-something Londoner Tommy, who lives with his two best friends in a fabulous flat. The book finds Tommy in a quandary: his sometimes-boyfriend Charlie is subtly pressing him for a commitment that Tommy doesn’t think he’s ready to make. Tommy is bisexual and, though fond of Charlie, can’t resist the occasional dalliance with members of either sex.
However, Tommy is committed to Charlie’s son, Finn, a charming eight-year-old who desperately wants Tommy to be his second dad. Tommy adores him right back, but can’t reconcile his love for the boy with his need for independence. Tommy’s taken enough with Finn that
he starts think he might want his own baby. And Tommy still hasn’t totally gotten over his break-up with India, a model
who dated him and broke his heart. Throughout all of this are Tommy’s roommates and best pals, the kinky lamp designer Bobby and the “mad” but sweet and maternal Sadie.
While that certainly seems like enough plot for a novel, Cumming insists on peppering the book with silly fairy tales about different topics like risk, beauty and fear of the unknown. Cumming
tries to make some kind of point with these stories, but they only serve to interrupt a narrative that holds up perfectly well on its own.
These little stories are distracting, and the book doesn’t need them. And, while
it may be realistic and there are people who live like that, some readers probably could live without passage upon passage detailing Tommy’s decadent lifestyle and seemingly endless parade of drugs and sexual partners (including a number of intimate encounters inside handicapped bathroom stalls).
But, despite its flaws, Cumming’s book is entertaining and moving, and the characters are compelling and believable.
Especially interesting is Tommy’s relationship with Sadie and Bobby, who are almost more like dysfunctional parents than friends. They give him advice and support, despite the fact that the three of them are roughly the same age. There’s a warmth and a sweetness to the trio’s friendship that’s convincing and fun.
Though the book is lively and fun, one really wishes Cumming had concentrated more on the relationships between the characters and left out devices like the fairy tales (or, in another instance, taking up an entire page with a single sentence). Still, Cumming is as irresistible in print as he is on screen, and if he drops some of the artsy affectations in his next book, he may come up with something truly remarkable.