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
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.
The author assumes the part of a young man whose mother has been murdered. He spends the entire book obsessing about the murder and his previous life growing up with his mother,... Read morePublished 26 days ago by bossdoug
The biggest problem I had with this book was almost all of the authors observations were cynical. After awhile it got aggravating.Published 1 month ago by sbowden
I put this on my kindle as a kind of place keeper while I waited for another book to become available. I was quickly drawn in. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Justareader
I still haven't gotten through this book. Honestly, I think it's very poorly written and hard to follow. I wouldn't recommend it.Published 8 months ago by Leah
Enjoyed this book very much. Author details life with his mother in Tombstone AZ and he death and the subsequent lack of investigation. Read morePublished 8 months ago by M. Payne
Well written and very interesting. Too bad so much time had passed before he started digging in to the evidence. Left wondering just like the author.Published 8 months ago by r h
Really captures the spirit of rural Arizona and of Gen X's struggles due to divorced parents. Nicely intertwined with the story of Tombstone.Published 11 months ago by Suzanne & Doug Paul