Not My Father's Son (Alan Cumming)

Article by liz

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Not My Father's Son: A Memoir Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062225078
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Dey Street Books - May 5th, 2015

I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too--oh, great, another celebrity memoir, I remember thinking; I love the guy, I hope this isn’t another rambling, self-indulgent actor book. Alan Cumming has never yet disappointed me with his work, and I’m happy to say that his streak continues unbroken: this memoir is not only a suspenseful and deeply emotional unraveling of a family mystery, but a beautiful, gripping tale of survival in the face of shattering abuse. Cumming uses his appearance on British genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? to frame his story, as he signs on to explore the mystery of his maternal grandfather Tommy Darling, a WWII courier whose disappearance and subsequent death (in a “gun accident” in Malaysia) left his family with scores of unanswered questions. His probe into the past, however, prompts a call from his estranged father Alex Cumming--a tyrannical abuser who held Alan’s family hostage to his shifting moods, and whose psychological terrorism and explosive violence made Alan’s childhood a nightmare. Alex drops an emotional bombshell of nuclear equivalent into Alan’s world, and it’s Alan’s search for the truth of his father’s words that drives this unflinchingly honest memoir.

These twin mysteries give the story a shape, keeping it from veering off-course into disconnected reminiscing, while giving Cumming plenty of opportunities for illustrative scenes of his childhood or early career, when his father’s abuse was at its worst (or when his repressed memories of the worst were wreaking their subtle, awful effect on him). Every flashback or family story serves a purpose, and all of them take a brave and clear-eyed look at the elder Cumming’s abuse and Alan’s recovery from it. Cumming’s voice is just as you’d expect: funny, straightforward, and delightfully off-color at times, and it’s that sense of humor that keeps a sense of hope and lightness, even when he’s telling you about his very worst memories. Joy abounds in Cumming’s escape from his father’s reign of terror and his finding a way forward from his past. As he untangles the threads of his family mysteries, you’ll feel the same powerful catharsis Cumming does, and like the man himself, you’ll emerge lighter and freer at the end.


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