Devoured in one sitting. That’s how compulsively readable Alan Cumming’s memoir NOT MY FATHER’S SON is.
Like the violent, psychopathic father, Alex, we discover in the book, Cumming’s narrative grabs you by the throat and won’t let go.
From heart achingly tragic to heart stoppingly thrilling, Cumming crafts a searing and compelling story with a vivid and vital vocabulary.
Alex elevated excoriation of his children, Tom and Alan, to the exquisite. Even when they had escaped his sphere, his cruelty, like an emissary of mischief and malevolence, continued to confront and cause conflict to the brothers.
“I think I was about eight or nine. Something transformed in him. He had always been prone to outbursts of rage, but now a darkness descended upon him that meant the glimmers of light between the outbursts disappeared. It was though my father was deeply depressed, and now I think he was. He obviously did not want to be in his marriage, he seemed to be perpetually irritated by the existence of his children, and nothing ever seemed to please him.” writes Alan quite early in the book, as he draws a picture of a mostly bleak and Dickensian man, unbelievably living in the later part of the 20th century.
Already, Alan is trying to understand what motivates and provokes his parent so, his training as an actor coming to the fore to excavate the core character and not simply give him a black hat and hiss the villain single dimensionality.
But when Alan was 45, estranged and seemingly out of the old man’s clutches, the BBC TV series WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? announced Alan as its ancestral conduit, and Alex made a devastating and incendiary accusation that Alan was not his issue.
What in Alex’s mind might have been a pre-emptive strike was a presumptive one,– the program was to focus on Alan’s mother, Mary Darling’s side of the family, particularly the mystery surrounding her father who joined the Malaya Police Force after service in World War II rather than come home to his family.
With paternity in doubt, Alan and his brother insisted on doing a DNA test, meanwhile keeping mum about the whole business while he worked with his mum on the TV show.
Revelation after revelation come cascading through these pages at a pulsating rate. So many secrets, intrigues and incidents from paternal, maternal and grandparental streams, tributaries to this colossal tale of victory over victimhood, triumph over tyranny, the accentuation of the positive.
NOT MY FATHER’S SON is not a name dropping showbiz glitz bio but anecdotes from his professional life do make pertinent appearances and add an added layer to the dramatic tapestry of the story.
In keeping with the covenant of the book, his take on his success is forthright and frank. “Being famous is mostly great. I have a really amazing life. I get to do a job I really like and I get paid really well for it…because I am famous I have a voice and I can help effect change. And I get loads of free stuff. But. I am constantly self-conscious. Every day I spend large amounts of time meeting or talking to people I would rather not engage with. I sometimes fear for my personal safety. Let’s leave it at that.”
Talking about performing live, Alan says it is all about the connection. “The rawest, purest connection you can only feel when you let the audience see inside you.”
Alan Cumming has succeeded making that connection in theatre, cabaret, film and television, and now with this big, bold, honest and haunting memoir, he has certainly succeeded in making that connection as a writer.
NOT MY FATHER’S SON by Alan Cumming is published by Canongate, hardbound with photographs, $35.00
For more about not my father’s son, visit http://www.alancumming.com