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Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain

Son of a Gun: A Memoir

by Justin St. Germain

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8223147,013 (3.69)15
  1. 10
    My Dark Places by James Ellroy (RidgewayGirl)
    RidgewayGirl: Also a memoir of a man's search for the reasons behind his mother's murder, Ellroy's book is more detached and straight forward but still shows the impact violent death has on the family left behind.
  2. 00
    White Oleander by Janet Fitch (shesinplainview, shesinplainview)

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For some reason I kept forgetting this was a memoir - maybe because it read more like a novel; maybe because, even though the subject was the murder of the author's mother by his stepfather, Germain felt oddly distant.

It was an interesting read, although the back details about Tombstone and Wyatt Earp felt like padding and slowed the pace down. ( )
  bobbieharv | Mar 30, 2014 |
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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.
( )
  goorgoahead | Dec 4, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A combination memoir, history, and true crime book. Justin loses his mother to murder at the hands of his step father. Justin goes on a quest to find out what happened. The historical part comes in because the book takes place near Tombstone. The story of Earp and the OK Corral are intertwined throughout the memoir. I enjoyed this intermingling quite a lot. This is a great mother/son book written with a lot of emotion. Sometimes I feel memoirs can get bogged down, but I did not feel that with this one. I wanted to read every word and finish the journey with Justin. ( )
  bnbookgirl | Nov 21, 2013 |
Having just finished reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild, Justin St. Germain's Son of a Gun is an interesting followup. Both authors lost their mothers when they were in their twenties, and searching for what the loss means for the children left behind form the basis for both excellent memoirs.

Son of a Gun opens with Justin returning home to the house he shares with his brother Josh only to be told that their mother Debbie was dead; she had been shot by someone. The young men begin the process of calling their grandparents and long-estranged father. When Justin told his father he writes,
"I told him she was dead and a long pause ensued, one in a litany of silences between my father and me, stretching across the years since he left and the distance between us, thousands of miles, most of America."
From there we learn that Justin and Josh were raised by their mother, a strong, tough woman, a former paratrooper in the military whose career was ended by an injury in a jump. The irony of Debbie was that her weakness was men.

She chose the wrong man to love, time and time again. She dated many, lived with some, became engaged to more than a few, and married five of them. Some of the men were good, but most treated her badly. She was beaten by some, and lied to by many of them.

Debbie went from job to job as well. For awhile, she ran a tourist gift shop in Tombstone, Arizona. She had a failed restaurant there as well. Eventually, she married Ray, a cop, whom Justin didn't really like, but had hoped would take good care of his mother as he turned eighteen and left home for college.

Ray and Debbie moved away from Tombstone, out in the middle of nowhere, where they lived in a beat-up trailer, hoping to build their own home. This isolation wasn't good for Debbie, and she didn't see her sons often. They were living their own lives and therefore didn't see everything going on with Debbie and Ray.

Justin described his mother this way:
"But she also loved to play the martyr. Whenever I got in trouble at school, I'd hear it: I gave my whole life for you and this is how you repay me? In one breath she'd say we didn't owe her anything, and in the next she'd list everything she'd suffered so we could have a better life. Most of the marks on her ledger were true, but she tried to pin her failed relationships on us; once or twice she even tried to claim that we were the reason she stayed through the abuse, as if we were the ones who wanted whatever sort of family we had with those men. There had to be someone to blame, and it was never her."
In the end though, people did blame Debbie for her own death. People who knew her and the sheriff investigating the murder felt that Debbie paid the ultimate price for making several wrong choices, especially when it came to men. It was almost as if they said, "well, what do you expect?"

The writing here is beautiful, at times poetic and always unsparingly honest. Justin takes us on his journey to discover how his mother's life had fallen so off-track. He links the independence of the culture of people who lived in Tombstone, where Wyatt Earp became famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and their love of guns with his mother's murder. Would this have happened if she lived somewhere else?

I found the chapter where he attends a gun show intriguing, as well as the fact that he and his brother could not collect their mother's life insurance until the murder was solved. I had never heard that before. What if it was never solved; does that mean the insurance company keeps the money? That didn't seem fair at all.

In the end, Justin determines that everyday he has to choose what kind of man he wants to be. He can choose to give into the depression and grief or he could get his life together. He can do nothing with his life, drifting, working low-paying dead-end jobs, drinking every night to numb the pain or he can move forward. I'm glad he chose the path he did; his story can give hope to those who feel lost. ( )
  bookchickdi | Sep 6, 2013 |
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. ( )
  SamSattler | Sep 4, 2013 |
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Recounts the murder of the author's mother in September 2001 and explores the crime against a backdrop of a shattering national tragedy and the author's efforts to distance himself from the legendary Tombstone, Arizona, of his youth.

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