Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

Dey: HarperCollins. Oct. 2014. 288p. photos. ISBN 9780062225061. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062225085. THEATER
Describing growing up the youngest of two in rural Scotland under an abusive father, multiaward-winning actor Cumming (The Good Wife; Cabaret) blends powerfully disturbing childhood trauma with his contemporary search for ancestral clarity as he recounts an enigmatic maternal grandfather named Tommy Darling, a well-respected Scottish servicemen whose disappearance, and demise, had always been a family mystery. Lifelong curiosity leads Cumming on an illuminating path from Scotland to Malaysia as a participant on the renowned television series Who Do You Think You Are?? The episodic nature of the text provides the perfect framework for Cumming's discoveries about his grandfather, which include prestigious awards and stunning acts of valor. Drama continues to unfold when his father reveals an explosive secret that turns the entire family on its head. Cumming's dry wit transitions effortlessly to the page, eliciting laughter one moment and gut-wrenching discomfort the next—anecdotes praising the Eurovision Song Contest sit easily alongside dark recollections of being subjected to his father's inexplicable rages.
VERDICT While the "then and now" structure, which features frequent chronological shifts, might seem choppy, the memoir sculpts an insightful, relentless examination of Cumming's hardships, alongside keen observations about the continuing effect of abuse on his life. A moving read that fans of the man and of memoirs won't want to put down. [See Prepub Alert, 4/21/14.]
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