Monday, 19 September 2016

Not My Father's Son

Author: Alan Cumming
Genre: Autobiography
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper Collins and Blackstone Audio
First Published: October 2014
First Line: "You need a haircut, boy!!"

Book Description from GoodReadsDark, painful memories can be like a cage. Or, in the case of Alan Cumming, they can be packed away in a box, stuck in the attic to be forgotten. Until one day the box explodes and all the memories flood back in horrible detail. Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan's father.

When television producers approached Alan to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, he enthusiastically agreed. He hoped to solve a mystery that had long cast a shadow over his family. His maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, had disappeared into the Far East after WWII. Alan's mother knew very little about him—he had been a courier, carrying information between battalions on his motorbike. The last time she saw her father, Alan's mother was eight years old. When she was thirteen, the family was informed that he had died by his own hand, an accidental shooting.

But this was not the only mystery laid before Alan's feet. His father, whom Alan had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade, reconnected just before filming for Who Do You Think You Are? began. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to his very core and set into motion a journey that would change Alan's life forever.

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 the celebrated actor of film, television, and stage. At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always incredibly brave and honest, Not My Father's Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I have a gaggle of celebrities who I'm, for one reason or other, drawn to.  I may not have seen all of their work but I'm fascinated by them.  Alan Cumming is one of those celebrities.  I've seen his work on The Good Wife as Eli Gold (truly awesome) and in a few movies like Spy Kids and as Nightcrawler in X-2: X-men United but it's not like I'm a crazy fan. 

Well ... until now.

I decided to listen to Cumming's book because I prefer to listen to non-fiction and with his Scottish accent it was a slam dunk for this gal who goes weak in the knees for a Scottish burr.  I had no idea what to expect, hadn't even read the book synopsis and yet I was immediately taken by his writing style, his honesty, humour and how he bared his soul to his readers.  I was in for a much deeper read than I had imagined.

Cumming is an excellent narrator (that cannot be said for all authors) and tells his story via two alternating story lines.  The first is his description of his childhood in Scotland which was, sadly, not a happy one.  The second story line deals with Alan uncovering, via a celebrity genealogy show called Who Do You Think You Are?, the mystery surrounding his maternal grandfather who had died under mysterious circumstances in Malaysia many years before Alan was born.  Both stories are intriguing in their own ways and make for quite an edge of your seat read.  

When I see an actor on screen I see the character they're portraying and don't typically think about them as a person with a history, family etc.  Listening to this e-audiobook, and especially with Cumming speaking the lines, I was sent through a whole gamut of emotions as he told his readers about his turbulent upbringing at the hands of his abusive father who took most opportunities to publicly flaunt his marital cheating as well as belittle and brutalize his two sons.  Cumming vividly describes his father as a violent man who was unpredictable and cruel as he routinely gave his sons impossible tasks in the hopes that they'd fail and he'd be able to punish them. The heartfelt and shocking descriptions of how he felt at the hands of the very man who was supposed to love and protect him are tough to read and broke my heart.  But his early life had some golden moments which mainly included his brother Tom and his mother who he sweetly refers to as Mary Darling. 

In order to survive and endure, Cummings' mind suppressed the abusive memories of his childhood and these memories wouldn't reveal themselves until after his nervous breakdown in his 20's while playing none other than Hamlet on stage.  Years later, Cumming slowly comes to terms with his abusive past, his relationship with his father and the emotional bombshell the man put at Cumming's feet.  At this point he begins to heal with the help of his husband, friends, mother and brother at his side.

This book is much more of a personal revelation and discovery than a Hollywood tell-all but does include some funny tidbits from Cumming's early acting days, particularly the one from Cannes with Patti Smith, Mary J Blige and Marion Cotillard as well as a little bit from his more current roles on The Good Wife etc.

I loved this book and was totally and utterly taken with Cumming's humour, candidness and insight as he genuinely shares his joy and his pain with his readers.  Ultimately this is a story about survival, resilience, inspiration and finally success and happiness despite a horrific childhood.  He shows his readers how his revelations about his past abuse from his father have strengthened the relationships he now holds most dear.  

See, I knew I liked this guy.

Highly recommended.

Note: The only downside to listening to the e-audiobook is that I missed out on the wonderful pictures sprinkled throughout the paper copy so you may want to check out that option as well.

Favourite Quotes
“Sometimes people do you a favour when they drop out of your life.” 
― Alan CummingNot My Father's Son

“Finally, the scariest thing about abuse of any shape or form, is, in my opinion, not the abuse itself, but that if it continues it can begin to feel commonplace and eventually acceptable.” 
― Alan CummingNot My Father's Son: A Memoir

“It’s hard to explain how much that feeling of the bottom potentially falling out at any moment takes its toll. It makes you anxious, of course, and constant anxiety is impossible for the body to handle. So you develop a coping mechanism, and for us that meant shutting down. Everything we liked or wanted or felt joy in had to be hidden or suppressed. I’m sad to say that this method works. If you don’t give as much credence or value to whatever it is that you love, it hurts less when it is inevitably taken from you. I had to pretend I had no joy. It will come as a shock to people who know me now, but being able to express joy was something it took me a long time to be confident enough to do.” 
― Alan CummingNot My Father's Son: A Family Memoir

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