Son of a Gun
by Justin St. Germain

In the tradition of Tobias Wolff, James Ellroy, and Mary Karr, a stunning memoir of a mother-son relationship that is also the searing, unflinching account of a murder and its aftermath
Tombstone, Arizona, September 2001.

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More About Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain
In the tradition of Tobias Wolff, James Ellroy, and Mary Karr, a stunning memoir of a mother-son relationship that is also the searing, unflinching account of a murder and its aftermath
Tombstone, Arizona, September 2001. Debbie St. Germain's death, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. "A real-life old West murder mystery," the local TV announcers intone, while barroom gossips snicker cruelly. But for her twenty-year-old son, Justin St. Germain, the tragedy marks the line that separates his world into "before" and "after."
Distancing himself from the legendary town of his childhood, Justin makes another life a world away in San Francisco and achieves all the surface successes that would have filled his mother with pride. Yet years later he's still sleeping with a loaded rifle under his bed. Ultimately, he is pulled back to the desert landscape of his childhood on a search to make sense of the unfathomable. What made his mother, a onetime army paratrooper, the type of woman who would stand up to any man except the men she was in love with? What led her to move from place to place, man to man, job to job, until finally she found herself in a desperate and deteriorating situation, living on an isolated patch of desert with an unstable ex-cop?
Justin's journey takes him back to the ghost town of Wyatt Earp, to the trailers he and Debbie shared, to the string of stepfathers who were a constant, sometimes threatening presence in his life, to a harsh world on the margins full of men and women all struggling to define what family means. He decides to confront people from his past and delve into the police records in an attempt to make sense of his mother's life and death. All the while he tries to be the type of man she would have wanted him to be.
Praise for "Son of a Gun"
" A] spectacular memoir . . . calls to mind two others of the past decade: J. R. Moehringer's "Tender Bar "and Nick Flynn's "Another Bull____ Night in Suck City." All three are about boys becoming men in a broken world. . . . What] might have been . . . in the hands of a lesser writer, the book's main point . . . is] amplified from a tale of personal loss and grief into a parable for our time and our nation. . . . If the brilliance of "Son of a Gun "lies in its restraint, its importance lies in the generosity of the author's insights."--Alexandra Fuller, "The New York Times Book Review"
" A] gritty, enthralling new memoir . . . St. Germain has created a work of austere, luminous beauty. . . . In his understated, eloquent way, St. Germain makes you feel the heat, taste the dust, see those shimmering streets. By the end of the book, you know his mother, even though you never met her. And like the author, you will mourn her forever."--"NPR"
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"If St. Germain had stopped at examining his mother's psycho-social risk factors and how her murder affected him, this would still be a fine, moving memoir. But it's his further probing--into the culture of guns, violence, and manhood that informed their lives in his hometown, Tombstone, Ariz.--that transforms the book, elevating the stakes from personal pain to larger, important questions of what ails our society."--"The Boston Globe"
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"A visceral, compelling portrait of St. Germain's] mother and the violent culture that claimed her."--"Entertainment Weekly

  • ISBN-13: 9781400068623
  • ISBN-10: 1400068622
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Publish Date: August 2013
  • Page Count: 242

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > True Crime > Murder - General

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-06-03
  • Reviewer: Staff

A young man wrestles with his heartache over his mother’s murder in this lacerating memoir of family dysfunction. St. Germain was a 20-year-old college student when his mother Debbie was shot to death in 2001 by her fifth husband in a desolate trailer in the Arizona desert, a disaster that threw into sharp relief the chaos of his working-class background. St. Germain revisits Debbie’s unstable life as an Army paratrooper and businesswoman, the string of men she took up with (some physically abusive), and his own boyhood resentment at their presence and at incessant domestic upheaval. Intertwined is a jaundiced, somewhat self-conscious meditation on St. Germain’s claustrophobic hometown of Tombstone—all sun-bleached ennui, arid hardpan, and tourist kitsch—and its presiding spirit, Wyatt Earp, archetype of the violent, trigger-happy machismo that he blames for killing his mother, yet feels drawn to as a touchstone of manhood. St. Germain makes harsh judgments of the men in his past (as well as of his sullen, callous adolescent self), but as he seeks them out later, he arrives, almost against his will, at a subtler appreciation of their complexities. At times his trauma feels more dutiful than deeply felt, but his memoir vividly conveys the journey from youthful victimization toward mature understanding. (Aug. 13)

BookPage Reviews

The journey of a mother's murder

“We’re just looking for the ghost town,” a stranger tells Justin St. Germain on the back roads of Arizona. St. Germain understands—maybe more than the stranger could appreciate. He is a haunted man. After his mother’s death, he moved from Arizona to San Francisco and rarely told new friends that she had been murdered when he was 19. He didn’t want to be defined by the tragedy. But now he can’t forget it, and Son of a Gun is his journey to make sense of it all.

The journey is also literal, as St. Germain returns to the scene of the crime. He interviews the detective, pages through old case files and reconnects with his mother’s former boyfriends. There’s something about the memoir that’s reminiscent of a dog sniffing around a backyard, determined and focused, following pure animal instinct to dig things up. Ultimately St. Germain’s journey is as much about himself as it is about his mother. It is about understanding how he arrived at his “new and clean” life in California after leaving behind such wreckage—not just the murder, but also emotional wreckage, domestic violence and poverty.

The book’s construction is pure elegance. By weaving the history of Wyatt Earp with his own story, St. Germain suggests meaningful parallels between the town of Tombstone and himself. Tombstone is defined by 30 seconds of violence that happened more than 100 years ago. St. Germain, too, is struggling against the inevitability of the past defining his present. As all of this unfolds, St. Germain manages to make the book feel like an old Western, a burlesque of violence strangely appropriate for his tale. By page 15 I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller. Emotionally raw and beautifully written, Son of a Gun is a book you won’t soon forget.

BAM Customer Reviews