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Son of a Gun: A Memoir Hardcover – August 13, 2013
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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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.
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
Top customer reviews
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.
I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a must read! Beautifully written and so pure in its' telling that to miss the experience of what Justin went through in trying to find the truth would be a travesty. The one thing that really shines through in Justin's story is his love for his mother no matter where their lives took them.
~Many moments worthy of audible "Wow."
Most recent customer reviews
This is a tragic tale from the very beginning, and even though the reader...Read more