not my father's son | OUTVisions for LGBT Professionals

not my father’s son

a memoir that reads like a detective story

not my father’s son
alex johnston

It is apt that Alan Cumming, currently the host of Masterpiece Mystery, should produce a memoir that reads so much like a detective story – replete with genuine plot twists.

Cumming's book opens with him preparing for an appearance on the English celebrity-genealogy-reality show Who Do You Think You Are. Cumming hoped that the researchers could resolve some oddities in the biography of his mother’s father, the charmingly named Thomas Darling. An English soldier, Darling had served in the Second World War and died in the postwar insurgency in Malaysia.

Just before the shoot however, Cumming’s estranged father contacted him. Complaining of being hounded by the tabloids, his father threatened a tell-all interview. And the “all” that he threatened to tell included a psychic bombshell of a revelation that would put a new twist on their deeply troubled relationship. The problem being that Cumming's father was a sociopath who emotionally abused everyone in his family. His revelation, as with everything he claimed, was therefore suspect.

The book that grew out of these parallel narratives is an account of the progressive discoveries about his grandfather's heroism and tragedy, contrasted with his own struggles to understand the truth or falsity of his father's shocking reveal - and the potential change in his own perception of himself that it might portend. All of this is woven around Cumming’s remembrances of his childhood in semi-rural Scotland.

Cumming brings a striking openness to the writing process. As a narrator he resists all temptation to foreshadowing or privileged perspective and faithfully portrays his thoughts and his mindset - so that when the twists come, we are able to share his sense of shock and by turns horror and relief.

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Authoralex johnston

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