Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I am not terribly familiar with Alan Cummings but once I placed him as the villain in Spy Kids, it was easier seeing his face. It is not a prerequisite to know the actor. The book stands alone as a literary work. Cummings may be an actor, but he is also a gifted writer. The book is working on a couple of timelines and stories with chapter headings as either "Then" or a date in the summer of 2010. Cummings was 45 years old and preparing to be on the ABC show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" Which explores your ancestry. Alan was particularly curious about his maternal grandfather who served in WWII and never really returned. He died in Maylaya working as a policeman.
This was a brave undertaking for Alan as he had his own skeletons in his closet. Perhaps by this time they had mostly been exposed, however. Alan grew up on an estate where his father was a groundskeeper. He and his brother, 6 years older, were very close and they worked hard at protecting one another and his mother. They all suffered horrific abuse by their father, Alex. Their delicate life rhythm was dictated by his rages and mood. Once free of the control the man wielded, the brothers are, decades out, still dealing with the aftermath. Days before filming the show, his father unleashes another curve ball of control. He reveals a devastating secret without evidence to support it, leaving the brothers to deal with the carnage.
Cummings juxtapositions the life of his grandfather with his own as he lives the trauma of that summer at the same time he comes to know the man who was also deeply damaged by the ravages of war. The main conflicts of both mysteries are solved by the end of the book. A moving epilogue is added.
Although the subject of child abuse is horrible and Alan does what many adult survivors do, disassociates, for a few years, Cummings adds appropriate and personal humor throughout the book. It is not used as a smokescreen to hide hurt but more of a commercial break from the heaviness of that summer. He does not find humor in the abuse or in his grandfather's tragedies but in the moments between. Just a small respite.
The book is very well written and spends much of the time solving the mysteries and going through the timeline of the controlling damage his father doled out to the boys growing up and moving away, his mother leaving shortly after that, to Alan's breaking point and working through the memories as they returned to that summer of 2010. I would also suggest reading "Etched in Sand," another book by an articulate author who survived an abusive childhood with her siblings. The abusive parents share commonalities.
I would recommend the book.