I don't tend to read a lot of celebrity bios because, even though I love pop culture, I just don't think that many of them are as interesting as they think they are. I'm glad to find that Alan Cumming is an exception. I've enjoyed him in everything I've seen him in, especially Eli Gold in The Good Wife (and oh, how I wish I could have seen him as the Emcee in Cabaret).
The difference with this memoir is that Cumming actually has an interesting story to tell. In 2010 he agreed to participate in a British TV show that helps people track parts of their ancestry. In particular, Cumming was interested in finding out about his maternal grandfather, who died under mysterious circumstances, after making some puzzling career and family moves. His grandfather's story unfolds and turns out to be even more tragic than one might expect.
But while this research is going on, Cumming deals with another piece of family history that's quite unsavory: his father was horrendously abusive, physically and emotionally, for most of Cumming's childhood. Trying to come to terms with that is bad enough, but while the TV show is uncovering hard truths about his grandfather, Cumming uncovers hard truths about his father.
The takes a "this chapter in the present, the next in the past" format that sometimes is irritating, but for the most part, Cumming is not a bad writer, and at times shows a devilish sense of humor. I found myself turning pages faster and faster, wanting to get at the heart of these family secrets. This is a book that proves the old saying "Truth is stranger than fiction"--I think if someone had written this plot as a novel, it would be jeered for being contrived.
He must be a resilient person to have not just survived his upbringing, but thrived. Hats off to him and to his willingness to share some of the less-ideal parts of his past.