Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
Published by Dey St. ISBN 978-0-06-222506-1
Hardcover, $26.99, 288 pages
Alan Cumming is an actor who can be unrecognizable from role to role. Today, for instance, he has a costarring role as tightly-wound political operative Eli Gold on the excellent TV drama The Good Wife. At the same time, he is starring as the let-it-all-hang-out Emcee in Broadway's Cabaret.
He is incredibly talented, and a very funny presence on TV talk shows. His dressing room at Cabaret is a nightly dance party, one of the hottest invitations in New York City. He is happily married to his husband Grant, and they split their time between New York City and Edinburgh in Scotland, his home country.
In his memoir, Not My Father's Son, Cumming divides his story into then and now. Then describes his difficult relationship with his sadistic father, a man who terrorized his entire family, saving particular wrath for his younger son Alan. The family lived on pins and needles, waiting every night to see what would set the father off on a violent rampage.
Cumming describes one particularly horrific scene where his father dragged Alan into the barn and chopped his hair off with clippers used on sheep. You can feel the terror on the page as Cumming shares this incident.
Now tells the story of Cumming's 2010 participation on a BBC TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, which explores the genealogy of a famous person. Cumming wanted to know what happened to his maternal grandfather, who had fought in WWII in Singapore. His grandfather stayed in Singapore after the war, leaving his wife and children behind in Scotland. In 1951, he died from a gunshot wound under mysterious circumstances.
The juxtaposition of the two stories form the basis for the beautifully written, emotionally moving memoir. Cumming writes very openly about the horrors of his childhood, and how that affected him and his older brother Tom, as well as his mother.
As Cumming grew older, he had no relationship with his father, and had no contact with him until the week when he was scheduled to film Who Do You Think You Are?. His father contacted Tom and told Tom that he had something to tell Alan, something that would perhaps explain his behavior towards Alan.
I have always admired Cumming as an actor, and now I admire him as a writer. His book shows how through pure dint of will, hard work and love, one can overcome a horrible childhood. If memoir is a genre you enjoy reading, put Not My Father's Son on your to-be-read list today. I hope Cumming shares more of his story in a future book.
rating 4 of 5
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