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Son of a Gun: A Memoir Paperback – March 5, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2013: What makes some memoirs “work” better than others? Of course the memoirist’s story counts: and usually, an exciting story works best. And Justin St. Germain certainly has a dramatic tale to tell: his mother was killed by her husband when Justin was a college student living nearby in Arizona with his brother. But St Germain’s memoir, Son of a Gun, is strongest when it’s at its coolest--graceful prose, simple observation, quiet painful admissions of contradictions. (Better educated than his mother, St Germain prides himself on his self-control, but when a TV “news” segment refers to Debbie St Germain’s murder near Tombstone, Arizona as a “wild west mystery,” he goes nuts, calling and excoriating the reporter; while his mother was shot to death, St Germain admits to, still, owning a gun.) Even more impressive is the slow, careful way he constructs a portrait of his mother, a five-times-married ex paratrooper with a taste for violent men and sappy poetry. Who was Debbie St Germain and how did she end up shot in the back in her trailer? In this debut, her son looks deep into her life, his own soul and the heart of our culture to find out. --Sara Nelson

Author One-on-One: Domenica Ruta and Justin St. Germain

Domenica Ruta was born and raised in Danvers, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Brooklyn. Her debut memoir, With or Without You, was praised by The New York Times Book Review as a "luminous, layered accomplishment."

Domenica Ruta: What would you hope the experience of reading this book would’ve been for your mother?

Justin St. Germain: I would want her to think that it did justice to her, to her story. Justice is a problematic term but I think I wrote pretty overtly to honor her in some way—but also not to make her out to be some kind of saint.

DR: As a reader, we see the way she’s a loving mother in how she gave you everything she could but you also show us the stuff that she doesn’t have to give because she didn’t have it for herself. It’s beautifully done. How do you feel about that today?

JSG: I struggled a lot with the idea that my portrayal of my mother would be the only portrayal that almost everybody would ever get of her. Most readers of this book are not going to have any other context. They’re not going to have met her. They’re not going to know anybody who knew her. But I think in the end, I just had to tell myself, "Look, it’s my portrayal or no portrayal and nobody ever knows she ever existed." I wanted people to be aware of who she was and what her life was like, and then beyond that, reflect on the way we think about murder and violence, especially violence against women.

DR: What writers do you find yourself returning to again and again both, in general, and then more specifically when you were writing Son of a Gun?

JSG: When I had just started writing my book, a friend gave me James Ellroy’s My Dark Places and it just blew up any idea I had of what I was trying to do and of what I could do. I was a fiction writer, and I didn’t really know how to structure a memoir, so I just read a bunch to see how other people went about it: David Shields, Leslie Marmon Silko, Michael Ondaatje, In Cold Blood, which seems obvious, but I think if you write about murder in America in any sort of literary way, you have to reckon with it.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In 2001, days after the Twin Towers fell, University of Arizona student St. Germain is notified by his roommate-brother, Josh, that their mother has been shot and killed, murdered at her home in Tombstone, best known for its connection with Wyatt Earp. St. Germain was raised there, and he uses the Earp legend and its history in counterpoint to his own. In the succeeding days, while President Bush addresses the nation’s grief on television, Josh and Justin try to come to terms with theirs, and over the succeeding years, they try to sort out the details of the crime and of their unusual mom’s life. Their mother’s husband (her fifth—and we meet them all), Ray, a local cop and the presumed killer, is found dead, a suicide, three months after the crime, thus eliminating any mystery element here, and St. Germain fails to bring sufficient drama or tension to the story of his quest to substitute for this missing ingredient. Still, the book’s similarity to James Ellroy’s best-selling account of his mother’s murder, My Dark Places (1996), and the likelihood of media appearances by St. Germain may generate considerable demand. --Mark Levine --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (March 5, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812980743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980745
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Justin St. Germain was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Tombstone, Arizona, "The Town Too Tough to Die." He received his BA and MFA from the University of Arizona, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer VINE VOICE on July 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At first glance this appears to be in the genre of true crime but is actually (as indicated on the cover) a memoir. Very poignant and meloncholy story of a man dealing with those pesky 'family issues' and the murder of his mother. Now this sounds really dull and boring but it sucked me right in and along the way I really felt part of his experience. All the while, the shadow of "Tombstone", the vast desert and Wyatt Earp hover over the story, blended in expertly with the how and why of his life. The author took no cheap shots at self pity or anger but brilliantly expressed himself in a way that broke my heart.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Judith Heiser on August 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I met Debbie and her boys shortly after they moved to Tombstone. His depiction of growing up in a town that celebrates murder on a daily basis is so accurate and the youth of today's Tombstone are no better off today. I too grew up there. It was my truck Justin sat in after the tragic accident that took the life of Candida.
Even though the memoir was heartbreaking to read, I couldn't put it down until finished. It so accurately describes the people of that small minded town. This is very well written. A fast and easy read. I hope someday, all those who knew and loved Debbie, can find closure. I also hope the rest of those who knew her, can forgive themselves for their judgments, gossip and jealousies.
I highly recommend this book. Especially anyone who has. Lost a loved one of murder. God bless you, Justin for your bravery and honesty.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Imagine being twenty years old and just days after 9/11 you get a call from your mother's friends who tell you that your mother was murdered, most likely by her fourth husband, a man you never felt at ease with and a man who is on the run.

This is precisely the situation as masterly told by Justin St. Germain who pursues the truth about the crime scene and the life of his mother, a woman of endless sacrifice and long-suffering to her children, who, though strong in general, became weak with the men she loved, resulting in a life of abuse from her many husbands.

Set in the Arizona desert of Tombstone, a place of violence and the Wild West, Justin St. Germain attempts to reconstruct his mother's life and make sense of the abuse she suffered. All the while, his life becomes more and more absurd. He adopts the dog, Chance, who belonged to the murderer of his mother and Chance is never the same after his mother dies: The dog becomes more and more depressed and angst-ridden as if a ghostly witness to the crime.

Additionally, Justin finds it difficult to go on with his life, pursuing his college studies in the San Francisco Bay Area where, afraid to be alone, he dates a series of women and feels that his life is one big lie.

Trying to uncover the truth, about his mother and himself, Justin writes a masterful, excruciating memoir, one that is both riveting and heartbreaking. Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Denis Vukosav TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"Son of a Gun: A Memoir" book by Justin St. Germain is strongly and emotionally written book, and its engaging, although sad story will interest reader to quickly read all of its 250 pages.

After the author's mother been murdered by his stepfather all the evidences suggest that the murder was probably spontaneous and driven by emotions. Author, Justin himself, and his older brother have had little contact with their real father and during childhood went through several relationships their mother had, most with the men who were being abusive to them and their mother...

Make no mistake because this book is not solving murder mystery type but a story of author's mother, memories of his previous life with her and what life became after she's gone. It's the story how the author managed to overcome his family tragedy and his attempt to explain its cause through considerations of his mother's past. He started talking to people, collected evidence that eventually resulted in the creation of this book, when around 10 years had passed. In his extensive research author will realize what lead to her death and in process he would revisit a lot of sorrow that surrounded his mother but also he will tell us about the Tombstone legend, their hometown, and what part did that legend played in his mother's tragedy.

This tragic story shows how much our lives are affected by our environment, location where we live, amount of material possessions we have, the family ties in which we are growing...

All of abovementioned makes "Son of a Gun" partly crime and partly memoir book although author puts accent more on the memoir part since there's any doubt about who commit his mother's murder.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Justin Michaels on July 14, 2014
Format: Paperback
This memoir is an anguish-driven cathartic attempt by the author to exorcise the torment of knowing that his step-father murdered his mother. St. Germain describes his growing up in the small, tourist-dependent town of Tombstone, Arizona, with a mom with an unhealthy attraction to macho men who were losers and poor role models for her two sons. Yet, the author makes it clear his mom consistently loved him despite her failed romances. This fact makes getting over the grief of her tragic death so difficult. Her love was one he could count on when everything else was in flux. In an attempt to speed the grieving process up Germain goes back to his hometown and looks at the police records, talks to the people that worked on her case, and even visits the place where the body of his step father was found in a pickup truck, dead by apparent suicide. He tracks down some of his mom’s previous husbands. He tries a support group of people who had also lost loved ones through violence but can’t seem to really connect with them. He tries to buy a gun while in Arizona that was the same as the one that killed his mom for some reason, but the sale is blocked because he lives out of state. He has regular nightmares of violence and sleeps with a gun.
Throughout his narrative, Germain also weaves in the history of Tombstone and shoots some holes through the Wyatt Earp legend. Yet, despite all the effort the author makes to liberate himself from this terrible legacy you do not feel he really succeeds. You are left as a reader disappointed and saddened by such a senseless and violent murder and its lingering effect on a surviving son.
I read a similarly-themed book, Set Free: Discover Forgiveness Amidst Murder & Betrayal by Stephen Owens and Ken Abraham.
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