A beloved star of stage, television, and film, Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.
With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.
This is a very unique memoir because it is anchored by Alan’s father. This memoir is not about his fame or his filmography or his aspirations. This memoir is about how Alan’s father shaped who he became as an adult, and how his father greatly affected him throughout his entire life. Usually, celebrity memoirs are very much ‘this is what I did when I was 6, and this is what I did when I was 13, and when I was 17, this happened, etc etc’, and although it’s fascinating if you’re a fan, there’s no core theme. There’s no anchor. There’s no angle.The anchor/angle in Alan Cumming’s memoir is his physically and mentally abusive father.
There seem to be a few parallel storylines in this memoir. Alan uses flashbacks to tell stories about how his father would physically abuse him and torment him and make him feel worthless and useless. Alan’s father seems psychotic and perhaps mentally ill. These flashbacks are heartbreaking to read, but they also make you respect Alan Cumming even more than you already did, because he grew up and he worked really hard to understand his childhood and understand his non-existent relationship with his father.
The other storyline in the book is Alan in around 2010, when he was asked to be on the show Who do you think you are? Alan agrees, and this opens up a family mystery involving his grandfather, who died under suspicious circumstances in the early 1950s. Throughout the memoir, Alan, with the help of the show, finds out what happened to his grandfather almost 50 years earlier.
Another part of Alan’s life that is explored in this memoir is his relationship with his father in the present (around 2010-2011, when Alan started writing the memoir). His father continues to mentally torment Alan, almost unknowingly. Alan finds out that his father is not his real father, and that his mother had an affair. This parallels the flashback chapters where Alan talks about all the affairs his father had while his parents were still married.
Alan’s childhood seemed tragic. Despite having a loving relationship with his mother and his brother, he lived in fear because of his father’s abuse. He was made to feel useless and his father always set him impossible tasks and then yelled at him when he couldn’t complete them. Alan’s traumatic childhood greatly affected him later in life, but as the reader can sense upon completing the memoir, Alan does the best he can to live his life without the shadow of his father looming over him.
This is a great memoir, and readers who don’t usually read non-fiction will love it. I also recommend this memoir to people who are a fan of Alan Cumming. Although he doesn’t mention his acting and his movie experiences in this memoir as much as I would’ve wanted, it is still interesting reading about this other side to him that I assume very few people in his life were aware of.
My Score: 8/10