Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Review: NOT MY FATHER'S SON, by Alan Cumming
I don't read a ton of celebrity memoirs- usually I have to be a fan of the author, and even then let's just say I manage my expectations. I can't say I'm a particular fan of Alan Cumming (I did see "Circle of Friends" on a flight to Ireland in 1995) but the buzz on his book was just so intriguing that I had to check it out, and I'm so glad I did.
Cumming's book tells two stories. First, he tells us about his father, Alex, who was monstrously abusive, both emotionally and physically, towards Alan, his brother Tom and their mother Mary. Alex tormented his children even into adulthood, first by telling Alan that Alan was not his biological child and then by playing a cruel trick designed to come to light after his death. Cumming tells Alex's story in alternating chapters with the present-tense search for the truth about his maternal grandfather. Tom Darling was a World War 2 soldier with the Cameron Highlanders, a Scottish unit that served in Europe. He died under shaded circumstances in Malaysia; Cumming sets out to find out what happened to him, with the help of a British television show called "Who Do You Think You Are". This reality show helps celebrities find out things about their families and documents the search.
Cumming's writing is very good and I found the narrative compelling and emotionally affecting. I was sorry to see it end, and I really enjoyed following his journey to find out more about Darling- a journey with two endings, one bitter and one very, very sweet. The story of coming to terms with Alex Cumming's sad legacy is also very emotional, but I loved the way Cumming finds of turning his father's last betrayal into something beautiful for Mary Darling. He also turned out a beautiful book full of love and forgiveness and acceptance. In the end that's all we can ask. I would certainly recommend the book to memoir readers and to people who enjoy reading about families. Ultimately it's a very happy story.
P.S., if you're interested in the story of Tom Darling, you can find the entire episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" on YouTube.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.