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Son of a Gun: A Memoir

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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 in her remote trailer, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. “A real-life old West murder my 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 in her remote trailer, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. “A real-life old West murder mystery,” the local TV announcers intone before the commercial break, 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.   Long after his mother’s death is “solved,” closure still seems missing. 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, house to house, 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 and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 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.   Brutally honest and beautifully written, Son of a Gun is a brave, unexpected and unforgettable memoir.


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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 in her remote trailer, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. “A real-life old West murder my 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 in her remote trailer, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. “A real-life old West murder mystery,” the local TV announcers intone before the commercial break, 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.   Long after his mother’s death is “solved,” closure still seems missing. 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, house to house, 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 and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 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.   Brutally honest and beautifully written, Son of a Gun is a brave, unexpected and unforgettable memoir.

30 review for Son of a Gun: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Gun Lore “Son of a Gun” is part true crime and part memoir with more emphasis on the memoir genre since there’s never much doubt about who dun it. It’s also a coming of age book. Justin begins to write the book soon after he loses his mother at age 20 and off and on continues the story until now when (I believe) he’s not quite 30 years old. There is nothing maudlin about this tale though it’s about devastating loss. Justin and his older brother have had little contact with their birth father and Gun Lore “Son of a Gun” is part true crime and part memoir with more emphasis on the memoir genre since there’s never much doubt about who dun it. It’s also a coming of age book. Justin begins to write the book soon after he loses his mother at age 20 and off and on continues the story until now when (I believe) he’s not quite 30 years old. There is nothing maudlin about this tale though it’s about devastating loss. Justin and his older brother have had little contact with their birth father and have survived a string of their mother’s relationships. Most of these men were at the very least verbally abusive. Then there’s their final stepfather. The love Justin has for his mother and her love for him and his brother is the redeeming factor in this tragic myth. I say myth because as the author researches and relives what lead up to her death he revisits a lot of the trauma surrounding of her murder and the lesser traumas along the way. He also does a wonderful job of tying in the legend of their town, Tombstone Arizona and how that myth plays in to what happened. It was an honor to be along and feel how he’s maturing and healing from his loss. He’s also a heck of a writer. Mom left him a gun to defend himself and the strength not to use it. This review is based on an advance reader’s copy supplied by the publisher. (Disclaimer given per FTC requirement.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    The first half of this book was so well done and the writing so sharp that I thought it was a 5 star. But then about the time he was relating the interlude with husband #3 and during the last 1/3rd it declined in tone to a much less "straight from the shoulder" individual story to starting a border crossover to what I call "wire coat hanger stories". In other words, his tale was well told, but he lost too much of the pure emotive objectivity in telling it by the time he meet the last 2 husbands a The first half of this book was so well done and the writing so sharp that I thought it was a 5 star. But then about the time he was relating the interlude with husband #3 and during the last 1/3rd it declined in tone to a much less "straight from the shoulder" individual story to starting a border crossover to what I call "wire coat hanger stories". In other words, his tale was well told, but he lost too much of the pure emotive objectivity in telling it by the time he meet the last 2 husbands again. And he started to whine a bit. He's admirable. And thoroughly grasped that nugget of the mother-son relationship of such immense bonds in this novel of their years together and her murder when he was 20. His mother made some horrendous mistakes as a mother- and it seems most of the reviewers tend to solidly overlook those as just parcel and part of her educational level and basic class economics status. Knowing many very poor single mothers, I disagree with that evaluation. This Mom was short wired, adrenaline junkie most probably, jumped at change and variety- didn't take any solid direction from her own youth and birth family etc. Places like Tombstone when no one in the classroom has a father? 100's of poor choices. One spoiler ahead. I was aghast at the point when she suggests as an aside and then lets her son send money to his continent away father as she did, for instance. His own savings for a goal- what a terrible lesson! Detestable to set a kid in that choice position in the first place but in this age and under that criteria! She exposes the sons continually to her own choices of change and serendipity! UGH! She gives up on jobs way, way too easy. Hoping in and out of the ARMY?? Family structure matters to kids. Fathers and men of strength and perseverance in their lives matter hugely. Her money sense and selfishness is so fully represented in the ridiculous will she leaves. And Justin St. Germain could recognize and feel that exact departures of her reality. This was a tremendous effort to dig out his own innards. And this author did it. He did an excellent job in describing the moving on way of life. Feelings of today first as the pivot criteria, old ones (bonds/loyalties) left most easily, almost no self-identity which holds a long term goal other than the empathetic bonding / sharing or feel good of "today". And tomorrow is like smoke. And intense disappointments consistently with a sulk- usually with the results of the failures blamed on others. Or a turning or denying with an "opposite" face for their occurrence even happening at all. All of that is rarely, rarely exposed here as he accomplished to such a heartfelt degree. Not to this depth and realization defined. The kind that details then and now under this kind of happenstance and can "see" the differences between them, as well. The very nuance of each turnaround and reversal grabbed. Justin St. Germain knows who he is. But I'd never want to be married to him.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    "There are no clues left, no mystery to solve. I know what happened. I just don't know why." When Justin St. Germain was twenty years old, his mother was murdered. Her sudden death left a gaping hole in his life, which he addressed, in some ways, by writing about it. In a nearly decade-long search for closure, he investigates her life: the circumstances that led her to settle in Tombstone, Arizona, the choices that led to her fifth and final husband and ultimately, her violent end. It's clear "There are no clues left, no mystery to solve. I know what happened. I just don't know why." When Justin St. Germain was twenty years old, his mother was murdered. Her sudden death left a gaping hole in his life, which he addressed, in some ways, by writing about it. In a nearly decade-long search for closure, he investigates her life: the circumstances that led her to settle in Tombstone, Arizona, the choices that led to her fifth and final husband and ultimately, her violent end. It's clear from the beginning who murdered Debbie St. Germain. This is not a murder mystery; it's a coming-of-age story, an unflinchingly honest memoir about a son and his strong, independent mother, a woman who made some questionable choices and paid a terrible price. Heartfelt and raw, but never self-pitying. Worth the read, if for no other reason than the harsh reminder that every murder victim leaves behind someone who grieves, someone who will always wonder why?

  4. 4 out of 5

    boekverslaafde

    Formalities first, of course, I received an Advance Readers Copy from a goodreads giveaway. Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain is one book I will never forget reading. It's full of incredibly raw emotion, telling the story of Justin's mother's murder. An event that no one should have to live through, but too many do. Not only did Justin suffer by losing his mother to an unforgiving, abusive man, but he relived it, trying to figure out what happened, years after her death, trying to find sense in Formalities first, of course, I received an Advance Readers Copy from a goodreads giveaway. Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain is one book I will never forget reading. It's full of incredibly raw emotion, telling the story of Justin's mother's murder. An event that no one should have to live through, but too many do. Not only did Justin suffer by losing his mother to an unforgiving, abusive man, but he relived it, trying to figure out what happened, years after her death, trying to find sense in a senseless crime. The book walks us through his moments from the time he finds out she's been killed, just a few short days after 9-11, up through to the present day, his struggles with life, and his emotions through it all. He realizes he'd managed to forget things he never thought he could forget, and when he thinks about some things, he has to really think 'did this really happen? why am I just remembering this now?' by the end of the book, you feel as if you know Justin, and your heart goes out to him. As a mother, I wanted to hold him close, smooth his hair to his head and just cry with him. ... I have a hard time writing a review for books like this. A book so full of pain and hurt, it's not something that you can bop around happily saying things like 'OMG. such a great book!" with a smile from ear to ear, it feels...like you're benefiting from someone else's pain. I did think the book was an excellent read, though I went through a box of tissues reading it. I think it's a good thing that it was written, I think that the author needed to do it, to find peace with the past. I would recommend reading the book, it gets the story of a paratrooper, woman, wife, sister, and mother out into the world, it reminds people that abusive men are still out there, and if we don't speak up, this is what happens. It affects more than just the woman it's happening to, and it needs to be stopped. I commend Mr. St. Germain for being brave enough to relive the most horrible events of his life, just so his mother isn't forgotten, and hopefully he finds some closure. Maybe an abused woman will read this book and realize this could happen to her...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy Burns

    This isn't just the story of a murder on the outskirts of Tombstone, Arizona. This memoir celebrates the firm bond between mother and son, questions the role of ephemeral fathers, and complicates the celebrated legend of a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. With a steady voice that takes careful aim, SON OF A GUN echoes the sound of one strong heartbeat emerging from a tombstone past. This isn't just the story of a murder on the outskirts of Tombstone, Arizona. This memoir celebrates the firm bond between mother and son, questions the role of ephemeral fathers, and complicates the celebrated legend of a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. With a steady voice that takes careful aim, SON OF A GUN echoes the sound of one strong heartbeat emerging from a tombstone past.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Koren

    This was written by the son of a woman that was murdered by her boyfriend. There is very little here about the crime. It is more about relationships and how he dealt with his mother's murder. The author admits his faults. He has not been the perfect son. It was interesting in the beginning but half way through I got bored with it and toward the end it seemed to be a bit repetitive. This was written by the son of a woman that was murdered by her boyfriend. There is very little here about the crime. It is more about relationships and how he dealt with his mother's murder. The author admits his faults. He has not been the perfect son. It was interesting in the beginning but half way through I got bored with it and toward the end it seemed to be a bit repetitive.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Library Biography #25 Recommendation from my non-fiction group. The tone of the book is rather somber. St. Germain takes the reader through the emotions and events surrounding his mother's murder. In addition to his memories, he takes the reader through his own suffering and healing in dealing with the loss of his mother. Years after her death, St. Germain decides to start investigating her life - the parts he doesn't remember or perhaps didn't understand since he only knew her life through the pe Library Biography #25 Recommendation from my non-fiction group. The tone of the book is rather somber. St. Germain takes the reader through the emotions and events surrounding his mother's murder. In addition to his memories, he takes the reader through his own suffering and healing in dealing with the loss of his mother. Years after her death, St. Germain decides to start investigating her life - the parts he doesn't remember or perhaps didn't understand since he only knew her life through the perspective of a child. He seeks out and finds his mother's ex-husbands and interviews them all, to try to understand her emotions and feelings. He pieces together his childhood from memories and the interviews. I'm not sure he really was able to achieve much from these encounters, but I started to realize how much St. Germain's journey reminds me of Goneboy: A Walkabout. Intertwined with the story of his life, of his mother, St. Germain adds details about the legend of Wyatt Earp and Tombstone - since this is where he lived with his mother for the majority of his childhood. The Earp parts I could have done without - but it didn't really distract or take away from the narrative. I also would have loved for there to have been at least one picture of his mother.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    First things first: I received this book free from LibraryThing Early Readers in return for this review. This did not affect my review in any way. This was a hard book to read and it is a hard book to review. Son of a Gun is the most honest book I can recall reading, which is wonderful, but also uncomfortable. I know people who read a lot of memoir will say that this level of honesty is not uncommon, but it is. Take, for example, The Glass Castle (a book I really liked.) Honest? Sure. But it was First things first: I received this book free from LibraryThing Early Readers in return for this review. This did not affect my review in any way. This was a hard book to read and it is a hard book to review. Son of a Gun is the most honest book I can recall reading, which is wonderful, but also uncomfortable. I know people who read a lot of memoir will say that this level of honesty is not uncommon, but it is. Take, for example, The Glass Castle (a book I really liked.) Honest? Sure. But it was in the hands of a great raconteur. The author chose stories which, though sometimes repellant, were entertaining. And at the end of the day the endings, though sometimes tragic, were spun into positives. It was a charming slideshow of a nightmare childhood. Nothing wrong with that at all, as I said I liked the book very much, it is just different than this. There are no happy endings here, no endings at all. I chose Glass Castle as a comparison because I have seen it cited as an "if you liked" the marketing materials for Son of a Gun. Marketing may not have read this, because this book is nothing like Glass Castle. It is not the story of a miserable childhood. It is not the story of selfish or mentally ill parents. It is not a story of triumph over adversity. This story is in part an "anatomy of a murder," but the murder story just provides the skeleton for the book's real focus. Son of a Gun is a memoir of suppressed grief. Son of a Gun is a meditation on what it means to be a man, particularly in the Southwest where steel-jawed machismo and gun love are king. Son of a Gun is an exploration of what it means to be a woman in a world where your accomplishments may be many but you have been trained to beleive you are a failure if you don't have a man. To some extent the book examines the ways in which people mistake obsession and cruelty for love. There is a lot of great stuff here, but that is also the book's downfall. I felt that the author tried to do too much and ended up unfocused as a result. Too much of a muchness, to misquote Lewis Carroll. I get that these themes are interlaced to attack the American heteronormative ideal. That a man steeped in the cowboy myth of violence and detachment and a woman steeped in the Disney princess myth of life not existing without a Prince Charming are likely to result in a couple fueled by need that has nothing to do with love and passion that can only be released through violence. I agree with the theory to a some extent. That said, there are a lot of threads here, not all are brought together by the author, and it leaves an unfinished or disjointed quality. Still a compelling read and highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sam Sattler

    Son of a Gun, the new memoir by Justin St. Germain, at first glance appears to be simply a son’s eulogy to his murdered mother. But it is much more than that because of how St. Germain uses his mother’s story to reflect also upon the precarious blue collar struggle so many people face today, one in which one missed paycheck can throw an entire family into the kind of tailspin from which it might take years to recover – if they ever do manage the trick. Former Army paratrooper Debbie St. Germain Son of a Gun, the new memoir by Justin St. Germain, at first glance appears to be simply a son’s eulogy to his murdered mother. But it is much more than that because of how St. Germain uses his mother’s story to reflect also upon the precarious blue collar struggle so many people face today, one in which one missed paycheck can throw an entire family into the kind of tailspin from which it might take years to recover – if they ever do manage the trick. Former Army paratrooper Debbie St. Germain was an extraordinary woman who met what some would say was a predictable end for a woman whose taste in men was always a little iffy. When she was only 44, her fifth husband, a burned out ex-cop who saw himself as something of a modern day Wyatt Earp, murdered her. That he and Debbie claimed nearby Tombstone, Arizona, as their hometown made it easier for her killer to maintain his deluded self-image. Tombstone is, of course, the site of Earp’s infamous “Showdown at the O.K. Corral,” the short burst of gunfire that ensured his reputation as one of the fiercest gunfighters of his day. Debbie met her fate in September 2001, just days after the horrors of 9-11. At the time, Justin was a 20-year-old student living with his brother in Tucson where the two were struggling to make ends meet. Justin knew that he would never have been able to afford school without the financial sacrifices his hardworking mother gladly made on his behalf. But that was the least of his concerns; now his mother was dead and he and his brother were stunned by the suddenness of it. Despite their shock - especially since he was nowhere to be found after the murder – the boys were certain that Ray, husband number five, was responsible for taking their mother from them. Some ten years later, the author felt ready to try to make sense of what happened to his mother. He returned to Tombstone and began talking to people who knew his mother in ways a son can never know her. He studied police case records in hope that he would learn more about Ray, the unbalanced loner with whom she was living on an isolated patch of ground on the day he ended her life. Justin St. Germain learned much about his mother and her death that he did not know, including what hers and her killer’s final moments were probably like, but he already knew the most important thing about her: she did not leave him. And he is determined to be the man she wanted him to be. Bottom Line: Son of a Gun is a touching memoir that takes a hard look at a gun culture whose victims are most often individuals very much like his mother, people struggling not so much to get ahead but simply to stay even. This is their story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Read more reviews at The Best Books Ever! Son of a Gun is an unflinchingly honest memoir as author Justin St. Germain looks back at his mother Debbie's murder by her husband, and goes back to trace her life beforehand, and afterwards. The story of Debbie's life and death is intertwined with Justin's own search for answers, and a little bit of Old West history, while he's at it. Debbie's life wasn't easy, and she wasn't perfect, but St. Germain never blames her, and in fact expresses anger that pe Read more reviews at The Best Books Ever! Son of a Gun is an unflinchingly honest memoir as author Justin St. Germain looks back at his mother Debbie's murder by her husband, and goes back to trace her life beforehand, and afterwards. The story of Debbie's life and death is intertwined with Justin's own search for answers, and a little bit of Old West history, while he's at it. Debbie's life wasn't easy, and she wasn't perfect, but St. Germain never blames her, and in fact expresses anger that people would blame anyone other than the man who pulled the trigger for killing her. Seeing victim blaming in books about crime is so common that it was a relief to read about the author's anger whenever people suggested that his mother should shoulder some of the blame in the circumstances that led to her death. I liked the fact that he examined this line of thinking, even addressing how it crept into his own thoughts, rather than just ignoring it. I was captivated start to finish by this book and St. Germain's heartfelt yet straight-forward manner of writing. He doesn't pull any punches in his writing and allows the reader access to his most personal thoughts while he was on this journey. I enjoy reading true crime stories, or should I say that I'm generally pretty morbidly fascinated by them, but I loved this book even more because it wasn't just a straight accounting of the circumstances that led to Debbie's murder. It's an introspective look at the author's own life and memories of his mother and his childhood. The whole story is, quite obviously, tinged in sadness and a bit of regret. He's searching for the truth about his mother, but has to face up to his own demons in the meantime: his anger, his fear, his own distorted memories. I feel like a lot of memoirs often want to skip over this part, but St. Germain is unafraid to put it all out there. This was a very heavy story to read at times, and with good reason. Deconstructing a person's life and the circumstances around a murder should never be an easy read. There are no quick answers, no real closure or justice in this case, no real answer as to "why". It really feels like writing this book was a growing experience for St. Germain, and I hope that he was able to use the writing experience as a way to better understand himself and to continue healing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Stanton

    This is a fine memoir, well written overall. The historic story of Tombstone, AZ and the gunfight at the OK coral is lightly woven into the personal story of St. Germain trying to resolve the questions surrounding his mother's murder by her husband (not St. Germain's father). The question is unanswerable; there are no witnesses. The mystery is somewhat compelling but I wished that St. Germain had somehow focused more on who his mother was when alive. She seems like a fascinating person, a strong This is a fine memoir, well written overall. The historic story of Tombstone, AZ and the gunfight at the OK coral is lightly woven into the personal story of St. Germain trying to resolve the questions surrounding his mother's murder by her husband (not St. Germain's father). The question is unanswerable; there are no witnesses. The mystery is somewhat compelling but I wished that St. Germain had somehow focused more on who his mother was when alive. She seems like a fascinating person, a strong athletic woman, in the military, jumped from planes, learned to fly, an entrepreneur and business owner. These all add up to a personality that takes risks, yet she repeatedly becomes involved with physically abusive men. That larger question doesn't really seem examined (and might have revealed something about violence toward women in culture as a whole). St. Germain does wonder what kind of man he is/will be, and when he takes moments to open up and worry this question, the memoir is most affecting. But mostly he stays on the surface--the events, the town and its history, the highlights of his mother's life (her relationships with men), his encounters with the crime scene evidence and piecing together the "events," but all without much exploration of the emotions of being the son of woman who was physically abused, or the son of murder victim. In "Townie," Andre Dubus does a good job of examining male violence; he explores his own heart and soul with gut-wrenching honesty for answers. St. Germain's book would have had more depth if he'd done the same. This book also calls to mind "Men We Reap," both because its topic is violence (murder and death of young Black men in Ward's book), but that book suffers the same problem: mostly surface, not much reflection or wisdom brought to bear. Maybe I am expecting too much for writers who are relatively young. Maybe it takes more than a decade to look back upon traumatic events and mine them for those powerful insights that we find in James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" for example, and in the best memoirs.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anna Mills

    I have to start right here and say, "Do not miss this story!" The book is the memoir of Justin St. Germain, a young man who loses his mother to violence. His step father is apparently at fault. He recounts their lives as a family - he, his brother, his mom, and her boyfriends - living in and near Tombstone, Arizona. He intertwines the Tombstone legend and its main player, Wyatt Earp with his own family tragedy. There is an underlying low electrical current that runs throughout and never leaves; I have to start right here and say, "Do not miss this story!" The book is the memoir of Justin St. Germain, a young man who loses his mother to violence. His step father is apparently at fault. He recounts their lives as a family - he, his brother, his mom, and her boyfriends - living in and near Tombstone, Arizona. He intertwines the Tombstone legend and its main player, Wyatt Earp with his own family tragedy. There is an underlying low electrical current that runs throughout and never leaves; there is no escaping it. You know what I mean, there is always something indefinably sinister just around the corner or at the turn of the next page. Debbie St. Germain is a hard living, hard working, admirable woman who has survived,dragging her sons along with her. She has lived a rather rough life in the desert near Tombstone when she is shot to death. This is not a spoiler; St. Germain's whole story hinges on this, as does his entire life afterward, so far. He looks for answers and has to learn to live with the fact that he may never know why she was murdered. I found the book timely because it must bring up the question of our lax gun laws or the very lack of law. He mentions going to gun shows in order to buy the model of gun that killed his mother, a very unnerving process. I have a hard time stepping away from the world of my computer but this book compelled me to READ IT with wonderful writing and perfect pitch recall. Brace yourselves. You are going to care about this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Kennedy

    Justin St. Germain's mother was murdered when he was a young man. This memoir is his attempt to come to grips with her violent death and more broadly, her life. It's pretty clear from the start who killed her, so this isn't a murder mystery. Frankly, it's hard to maintain sympathy for the woman, married five times, bent on hooking up with the wrong sort of guy, over and over again. It's more surprising that she lived as long as she did, not than that she died as she did. I am becoming less and le Justin St. Germain's mother was murdered when he was a young man. This memoir is his attempt to come to grips with her violent death and more broadly, her life. It's pretty clear from the start who killed her, so this isn't a murder mystery. Frankly, it's hard to maintain sympathy for the woman, married five times, bent on hooking up with the wrong sort of guy, over and over again. It's more surprising that she lived as long as she did, not than that she died as she did. I am becoming less and less willing to read about parents who through their own self-centeredness screw up their kids' lives. Mr. St. Germain's childhood was obliterated by the revolving door of abusive men his mother brought into their lives. Because he grew up in Tombstone, Arizona, the author weaves his personal story around that of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. I found the connection tenuous at best and a distraction at worst. I have read many books lately in which the author attempts this kind of mashup and it just doesn't work for me. (See The Magical Stranger, North of Hope, Frozen in Time, and Jungleland). The personal story is always what interests me, so I just skip the storyline that doesn't. I hope writing this book was cathartic for Mr. St. Germain, but as a redemptive quest story, it just didn't work for me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    The prose is the kind that pulls you in and won't let go. Like an updated version of Rick Bragg's All Over But the Shoutin', St. Germain dispenses with romantic notions of life in certain parts of America (in this case Out West instead of Down South). People go west to make a new life, to try to erase the past, and so often they find themselves deeply disappointed. And so the dreamscape becomes just the backdrop of their great failure. Their ensuing actions can be desperate, violent. The story o The prose is the kind that pulls you in and won't let go. Like an updated version of Rick Bragg's All Over But the Shoutin', St. Germain dispenses with romantic notions of life in certain parts of America (in this case Out West instead of Down South). People go west to make a new life, to try to erase the past, and so often they find themselves deeply disappointed. And so the dreamscape becomes just the backdrop of their great failure. Their ensuing actions can be desperate, violent. The story of Debbie St. Germain's murder is heartbreaking, painful in its senselessness, but only because her son makes us understand her so, makes it impossible not to care about her, impossible not to see her life through *her* eyes. In the end, it's a wonderful memoir--honest, harsh and empathetic in the same breath, everything you want in a memoir--but it's also a feminist manifesto, a meditation on the power of a mother's love, and a call to remember that when you see on the news again that someone has been murdered, you ought not forget that that person has a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse whose pain is unimaginable, unrelenting and permanent.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    A well written memoir about the murder of the author's, Justin's, mother. She was apparently killed by her fifth husband and under unknown circumstances. Justin revisits the past to find out what happened. He remembers his mother as a very strong and independent woman, and he wonders what happened to lead her to where she ended up. He has many questions and sets out on a journey to find the answers. He visits a few people from his mother's past to hear their stories. Justin hopes to be able to f A well written memoir about the murder of the author's, Justin's, mother. She was apparently killed by her fifth husband and under unknown circumstances. Justin revisits the past to find out what happened. He remembers his mother as a very strong and independent woman, and he wonders what happened to lead her to where she ended up. He has many questions and sets out on a journey to find the answers. He visits a few people from his mother's past to hear their stories. Justin hopes to be able to fill in the blanks of the murder with the stories and police reports. The memoir was a great read filled with true emotion. It is not only a book of piecing together Debbie's murder, but about healing and self-discovery. As Justin visits the people of Debbie's past, he slowly begins to see things in his mother that he never really noticed before. He also seems to find a peace towards an ex-husband of Debbie's that was violent towards her. I was glad to see that the author seems to find closure by taking this journey. I really enjoyed reading this memoir! I received a copy of this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    St. Germain is an incredible writer and his talent made this story even more meaningful. This is a tragic tale from the very beginning, and even though the reader expects it, the pain St. Germain feels bleeds through in a remarkable way. True crime lovers will enjoy the mystery and the exploration of the facts and evidence. Those interested in family dynamics will be intrigued by the story of a mother who gives up it all for her sons...and even doles out pieces of her soul to some questionable m St. Germain is an incredible writer and his talent made this story even more meaningful. This is a tragic tale from the very beginning, and even though the reader expects it, the pain St. Germain feels bleeds through in a remarkable way. True crime lovers will enjoy the mystery and the exploration of the facts and evidence. Those interested in family dynamics will be intrigued by the story of a mother who gives up it all for her sons...and even doles out pieces of her soul to some questionable men...including one who takes it all. Lastly, this is also a story about the stages of grief, and how the journey through the pain is necessary and ugly...no mater how long you wait. The scene that shows this the most is near the end when the author attends a support group for family members of murder victims and falls apart....even though their tragedies are much more recent. Set in Tombstone...and juxtaposed with classic stories of Wyatt Erp and the Wild West, the themes of renegade attitudes, the search for freedom, and men with guns....reverberate and haunt the reader. It will leave you thinking and feeling...a nonfiction piece for multiple audiences.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sonia

    I'm not sure why I decided to pick up and finally read this book, which I bought a few years ago after seeing it recommended somewhere, but I'm sure glad I did. There is something especially timely about St. Germain's searing portrait of his grief over his mother's gun murder at the hands of her husband. I think sometimes the personal gets lost in the larger discussion of gun violence in the U.S., which has centered so often lately on mass shootings and the toxic political culture around impleme I'm not sure why I decided to pick up and finally read this book, which I bought a few years ago after seeing it recommended somewhere, but I'm sure glad I did. There is something especially timely about St. Germain's searing portrait of his grief over his mother's gun murder at the hands of her husband. I think sometimes the personal gets lost in the larger discussion of gun violence in the U.S., which has centered so often lately on mass shootings and the toxic political culture around implementing seemingly ANY form of gun control. But St. Germain's memoir is pointed and almost obsessively detailed about the specificities of his mother's murder, as he tries to piece together what happened in an effort to move on from it. We never move on, though. Not really. This book manages an amazing balance between a moving description of the author's own tragic loss and an analysis of the insane, misogynistic culture that fed his stepfather's (not-so-incidentally: his stepfather was a cop) momentary murderous rage. So much to think about.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Martie Nees Record

    When St. Germain was 20 his mother was murdered by her 5th husband. At 31 he revisits his hometown of Tombstone, Ariz (learned a bit about the Earps) hoping for closure. The book's brilliance is not in the description of the murder rather “the reality behind the facade of the American dream: namely, that there is no glory in being a blue-collar grunt in this country, that to be working class is to live a tenuous existence, one in which the authors and half the people they know are one misstep aw When St. Germain was 20 his mother was murdered by her 5th husband. At 31 he revisits his hometown of Tombstone, Ariz (learned a bit about the Earps) hoping for closure. The book's brilliance is not in the description of the murder rather “the reality behind the facade of the American dream: namely, that there is no glory in being a blue-collar grunt in this country, that to be working class is to live a tenuous existence, one in which the authors and half the people they know are one misstep away from surfing garage-sale sofas in other people’s living rooms.” A good memoir.

  19. 4 out of 5

    SouthWestZippy

    Justin St. Germain reflects on the murder of his Mother Debbie. The Murder took place only days after 9/11 in a remote part of Arizona were she was living with her fifth husband. The husband becomes the only suspect when they were not able to find him right away. Book is slow and at times it is him speculating on about what all happen. Not a lot of details about the crime scene but gives enough to know it was awful. You can fell his heartbreak,all he wanted was for his Mother to stop dating and M Justin St. Germain reflects on the murder of his Mother Debbie. The Murder took place only days after 9/11 in a remote part of Arizona were she was living with her fifth husband. The husband becomes the only suspect when they were not able to find him right away. Book is slow and at times it is him speculating on about what all happen. Not a lot of details about the crime scene but gives enough to know it was awful. You can fell his heartbreak,all he wanted was for his Mother to stop dating and Marrying the same type of men over and over.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Star

    This memoir is not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. Justin St. Germain tries to make sense of his mother's murder, with the ironic backdrop of his hometown, Tombstone, AZ. Even though the why never really gets answered, Justin's questions and the raw gut honesty of his search for a way out of grief make it a worthwhile exploration. It will resonate for anyone who has ever been impacted by senseless violence and the never ending inner voices that ask, why? This memoir is not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. Justin St. Germain tries to make sense of his mother's murder, with the ironic backdrop of his hometown, Tombstone, AZ. Even though the why never really gets answered, Justin's questions and the raw gut honesty of his search for a way out of grief make it a worthwhile exploration. It will resonate for anyone who has ever been impacted by senseless violence and the never ending inner voices that ask, why?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amber Mcquerrey

    I opened this book the day I got it and couldn't put it down. Best book I've ever read and I'm still trying to catch my breath. This brave, honest and absolutely heartbreaking memoir is among the few things that have come along in my life that will stay with me forever. I opened this book the day I got it and couldn't put it down. Best book I've ever read and I'm still trying to catch my breath. This brave, honest and absolutely heartbreaking memoir is among the few things that have come along in my life that will stay with me forever.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katrina McCollough

    Amazing book, thank you. For the type of person like me who wonders what everyone's stories are when I pass them on the street, this is perfect. It was very well balanced between fact and your emotional state, I read it in a day and couldn't put it down. Thank you for the book! Amazing book, thank you. For the type of person like me who wonders what everyone's stories are when I pass them on the street, this is perfect. It was very well balanced between fact and your emotional state, I read it in a day and couldn't put it down. Thank you for the book!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jodi Sh.

    Craftwise: Watch how St. Germain uses the legend of Wyatt Earp and Tombstone to move the story along. Powerful story, well told.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    Justin St. Germain was a 20-year-old University of Arizona student when his mom, Debbie, was shot to death in Tombstone less than two weeks after 9/11. As Justin and his brother attempt to process what has become of their life, Justin begins journaling. While cathartic, he never can come to accept the manner of her death or that her co-dependency on violent men ultimately led to her murder. Justin goes on to become a successful journalist in San Francisco when the ghosts of his past finally catc Justin St. Germain was a 20-year-old University of Arizona student when his mom, Debbie, was shot to death in Tombstone less than two weeks after 9/11. As Justin and his brother attempt to process what has become of their life, Justin begins journaling. While cathartic, he never can come to accept the manner of her death or that her co-dependency on violent men ultimately led to her murder. Justin goes on to become a successful journalist in San Francisco when the ghosts of his past finally catch up with him. Digging out his journals, he reconstructs his former life with a much more objective eye. He also retraces his childhood, including introducing the reader to all five husbands as well as the boyfriends in between. Interwoven into this is the rich history of Tombstone and some of its more notorious residents. While some of this memoir is heartbreaking, what emerges is the raw and moving portrait of his mother: former paratrooper, restaurant owner, horse lover, domestic violence victim, free spirit and fiercely loving mom. ~Kassie G.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Steve Fox

    A memoir of a man with a troubled childhood who rises to impressive heights, with similar tones to "Educated" by Tara Westover and "A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah. Author Justin St. Germain's story is at times uplifting and other times exposes a truly trouble childhood in the unique town of Tombstone, Arizona, made famous by Wyatt Earp and the famous shootout at the OK Corral. This book was recommended to me by a colleague as a book she has her students read. I have had my students read "A Lon A memoir of a man with a troubled childhood who rises to impressive heights, with similar tones to "Educated" by Tara Westover and "A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah. Author Justin St. Germain's story is at times uplifting and other times exposes a truly trouble childhood in the unique town of Tombstone, Arizona, made famous by Wyatt Earp and the famous shootout at the OK Corral. This book was recommended to me by a colleague as a book she has her students read. I have had my students read "A Long Way Gone" in past years, so I was curious. My son also read this book in high school (in the teacher's class referenced above). I'm glad he had thoughtful teachers who required complex stories as a part of high school curriculum.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    In this memoir the author tries to comprehend the incomprehensible. Why was his mother, Debbie, murdered? Debbie had been in the miltary even becoming a paratrooper. She was tough and capable of taking care of herself. Yet, she always seemed to choose the wrong kind of men. Her murderer was her 5th husband. Justin St. Germain researches his mother's life and tries to understand his reactions to what has happened and who his mother really was. In this memoir the author tries to comprehend the incomprehensible. Why was his mother, Debbie, murdered? Debbie had been in the miltary even becoming a paratrooper. She was tough and capable of taking care of herself. Yet, she always seemed to choose the wrong kind of men. Her murderer was her 5th husband. Justin St. Germain researches his mother's life and tries to understand his reactions to what has happened and who his mother really was.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dayne

    I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I could hardly put it down. It was a smooth read and presented interesting insights about guns, cycles of abuse and southern Arizona. However, something about the author’s voice didn’t resonate with me like other memoirs. I felt there was an underlying tone of pessimism and blame that detracted from the author’s tribute to his mother. All in all, I’m glad I read it. The book recounts a heartbreaking and tragic event while also bringing to light I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I could hardly put it down. It was a smooth read and presented interesting insights about guns, cycles of abuse and southern Arizona. However, something about the author’s voice didn’t resonate with me like other memoirs. I felt there was an underlying tone of pessimism and blame that detracted from the author’s tribute to his mother. All in all, I’m glad I read it. The book recounts a heartbreaking and tragic event while also bringing to light the complexity of social issues.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richard_C1

    Son of a Gun is an overly honest memoir that describes the crippled life of a man with a murdered mother from a first-person perspective and goes over the experiences and emotions that come with losing a loved one in full detail. With this book, Justin St. Germain shares with the reader the cruelness of society and reveals a theme of "things happen, but we must get over it". Overall, Son of a Gun is a book of hardships and negativity that describes the writer's experiences with honesty. Son of a Gun is an overly honest memoir that describes the crippled life of a man with a murdered mother from a first-person perspective and goes over the experiences and emotions that come with losing a loved one in full detail. With this book, Justin St. Germain shares with the reader the cruelness of society and reveals a theme of "things happen, but we must get over it". Overall, Son of a Gun is a book of hardships and negativity that describes the writer's experiences with honesty.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Larry H

    In Tombstone, Arizona, near the site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a plaque commemorating Frank and Tom McLaury, brothers who died in the gun battle. It says, "One owes respect to the living. But to the dead, one owes nothing but the truth." In September 2001, Justin St. Germain's mother, Debbie, was shot to death in a trailer in Tombstone, apparently by her fifth husband. Debbie, her many relationships, and her murder were fodder for gossip among Tombstone's residents, and her death was In Tombstone, Arizona, near the site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a plaque commemorating Frank and Tom McLaury, brothers who died in the gun battle. It says, "One owes respect to the living. But to the dead, one owes nothing but the truth." In September 2001, Justin St. Germain's mother, Debbie, was shot to death in a trailer in Tombstone, apparently by her fifth husband. Debbie, her many relationships, and her murder were fodder for gossip among Tombstone's residents, and her death was also sensationalized by the media ("A real-life Old West murder mystery," one news network commented). But for Justin and his older brother, Josh, Debbie's murder leaves them with painful memories, unresolved emotions, and lots of questions. Justin tries to understand why his mother, an intelligent, independent, feisty, former Army paratrooper, would enter into so many relationships with unstable men who abused her physically and emotionally, and some who even abused her sons. Why would she continue to repeat the same patterns over and over again, knowing she could never change these men, and probably inherently realizing she was on a self-destructive path? Why would a woman so fiercely loyal to her sons, willing to sacrifice everything for them, resign herself to her own unhappiness and potential harm? For a number of years after his mother's death, Justin tries to build a new life for himself in San Francisco, away from the town where he spent most of his childhood watching and experiencing her dangerous relationships. But even after finding a woman he wants to settle down with, he can't get his mother's murder off his mind. He can't sleep without a gun or other weapon under his bed for comfort. And he still can't seem to get the closure he so desperately needs. With no other recourse available, Justin returns to Tombstone to try and make some sense of the woman his mother was and the men she married. He meets with his former stepfathers to try and understand their relationships with Debbie, and tries to determine whether everyone missed the warning signs that could have prevented her death. And at the same time, Justin tries to resolve his own feelings for his mother, a woman he simultaneously loved and resented for putting him into so many volatile situations with so many men. Son of a Gun is a very moving account of a young man's search for answers he probably knows he'll never find. Interspersed with some historical facts about Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, the book accurately describes the range of emotions felt after a loved one is murdered. This is quite compelling—you want everything to be resolved, to know what happened, even as you know it's impossible. Justin St. Germain is a very talented writer, and I hope that he'll continue writing in the future.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hank Hoeft

    A fellow English teacher in the high school where I teach, loves to read (and recommend to her students) non-fiction books about young people who have overcome adversity. When I saw Son of a Gun on a rack of new arrivals in the local college library, I was drawn to it, thinking it was just the kind of book my friend and colleague would be interested in reading. And I was right. Son of a Gun: A Memoir is an intensely personal, well-written account of a young man's efforts to deal with, and move o A fellow English teacher in the high school where I teach, loves to read (and recommend to her students) non-fiction books about young people who have overcome adversity. When I saw Son of a Gun on a rack of new arrivals in the local college library, I was drawn to it, thinking it was just the kind of book my friend and colleague would be interested in reading. And I was right. Son of a Gun: A Memoir is an intensely personal, well-written account of a young man's efforts to deal with, and move on from, the murder of his mother by his stepfather. Something that makes it particularly interesting is the son is a gifted writer, and he does not seek to romanticize or whitewash or rationalize his own failings and self-destructive behaviors while he attempted for years to come to grips with his mother's senseless death. And his story is made all the more poignant by the quiet lack of closure at the book's end. If this were a work of fiction, one might expect such a closure, some sort of resolution, but this book isn't fiction--it's non-fiction, it's real life, and real life is seldom as neat and episodic as the stories we make up. That's why I think anyone would find Son of a Gun worth reading. There are other reasons, but they are personal to me. First of all, the story takes place mostly in and around Tombstone, Arizona, and I live in southeast Arizona myself, and am familiar with Tombstone and the surrounding area, and with the Wyatt Earp of both historical fact and Western American legend. Wyatt Earp has always fascinated me, with the intertwining of an actual human being with the stuff of legend and Earp's decades-long struggle to deal with the legend he never sought to become. I was impressed by St. Germain's use of the Wyatt Earp story--both the man and the legend--to frame and give context to what happened to his mother. I was also surprised when the author also mentioned my hometown of Parker, Arizona. Parker is just across the Colorado River from Earp, California, where Wyatt Earp had a small cabin in his last years, but Parker is all the way across the state from Tombstone. Nevertheless, Parker's small part in St. Germain's story made the book even more immediate to me--as did the fact that I am the same age as the author's mother. A final point of personal interest for me is that I also am a diarist and a memoir writer, and I appreciate reading an excellent example of that kind of literature. I am grateful the author overcame all the obstacles in his life--both external and self-imposed--to hone his talent and learn his craft and write such a clear, natural-sounding account.

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