Monday, July 27, 2015

"Not My Father's Son," by Alan Cumming

I happened to have a few minutes to browse in the Diesel Bookstore in Marin County, and on a whim, I picked up actor Alan Cumming’s memoir, “Not My Father’s Son” (HarperCollins, 2014). In chapters alternating between his past and present, Cumming tells of his difficult childhood with a cruel, abusive father, and of his recent stint preparing for and participating in the television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” The show involves extensive investigation of a famous person’s geneology and history, and often comes up with facts that surprise the person as well as TV viewers. So this memoir is partly structured around two mysteries involving Cumming’s father and his maternal grandfather. This structure works well to keep readers’ interest, and Cumming’s writing is personal and revealing; besides writing about the main topics, he includes some discussion of his relationship with his husband, his education, his work, and other topics. He also writes beautifully about the Scottish settings where he grew up (another aspect of interest for me, with my own Scottish ancestry and my trip there two months ago). But the abuse and the mysterious family history are mostly front and center, and we readers feel sympathy, anxiety, and suspense all at once. I don’t often read show business celebrity memoirs, but this one is compelling and well written, and focuses much less on the theater/movie business than on the personal side of this famed and excellent actor’s life. Readers cannot help but feel pain and sympathy for Cumming’s terrible childhood, but also admiration and gladness for his surviving and thriving despite that childhood. This book also includes a generous selection of photos. Oh, and by the way, the book was blurbed by Andrew O’Hagan (also from Scotland), about whose work I posted here on 7/17/15; I enjoy finding these interconnections among the books I read.
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