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 20-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.
"A great, momentous undertaking... This book is brave, honest, savage, and tender all at once. It broke my heart, and I’m so grateful I’ve read it." (Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones)
"There is a sort of gracefulness in the cadences, and a lovely control of rhythm in the sentences, which do justice to the themes of loss and love that are at the center of this memoir. There is also a level of coiled and accurately conveyed emotion, a careful way of telling truth, and an unsparing release of heartbreak." (Colm Tóibín, author of The Testament of Mary)
"From an incident of heartbreaking violence, Justin St. Germain has created a clear-eyed and deeply moving meditation on family, geography, and memory, and how difficult it is to find our place in any of them. Son of a Gun is an extraordinary memoir." (Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds)
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Not the most compelling memoir unless
Heartbreaking and Beautiful
I couldn't possibly do that. Even though it is a short book, it gets under the skin of so many issues mothers and sons, gun violence, loss, the beauty and isolation of the desert, and the western ideal of the righteous outlaw.
There aren't really characters because this is a memoir, but the story is about the author's journey, so I'd say he come across as both symapathetic and flawed. You can also understand his lose and how the world he's from affects his ability to grieve his tremendous loss.
The mom's eccentric ex-fiance who tries to involve the narrator in a pyramid scheme.
This book was very engaging and is also one listened to more than once. Despite the central tragedy, the book is engaging on many levels and is well written. I really liked this book.
This isn't a trashy true crime novel that takes morbid pleasure in pouring over the details of a crime. It's a memoir that delves into the height and weight of loss and examines really timely, relevant themes without being preachy or ham-handed. It is well worth the cost of one credit.
- Najima Rainey