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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 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.
“[A] spectacular memoir . . . calls to mind two others of the past decade: J. R. Moehringer’s Tender Bar and Nick Flynn’s Another Bull____ Night in Suck City. All three are about boys becoming men in a broken world. . . . [What] might have been . . . in the hands of a lesser writer, the book’s main point . . . [is] amplified from a tale of personal loss and grief into a parable for our time and our nation. . . . If the brilliance of Son of a Gun lies in its restraint, its importance lies in the generosity of the author’s insights.”—Alexandra Fuller, The New York Times Book Review
“[A] gritty, enthralling new memoir . . . St. Germain has created a work of austere, luminous beauty. . . . In his understated, eloquent way, St. Germain makes you feel the heat, taste the dust, see those shimmering streets. By the end of the book, you know his mother, even though you never met her. And like the author, you will mourn her forever.”—NPR
“If St. Germain had stopped at examining his mother’s psycho-social risk factors and how her murder affected him, this would still be a fine, moving memoir. But it’s his further probing—into the culture of guns, violence, and manhood that informed their lives in his hometown, Tombstone, Ariz.—that transforms the book, elevating the stakes from personal pain to larger, important questions of what ails our society.”—The Boston Globe
“A visceral, compelling portrait of [St. Germain’s] mother and the violent culture that claimed her.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Impossible to put down . . . Son of a Gun is a raw, compelling read that stays with you beyond the last page.”—GQ
“A great, momentous undertaking . . . This book is brave, honest, savage, and tender all at once. It broke my heart, and I’m so grateful I’ve read it.”—Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award–winning author of Salvage the Bones
“There is a sort of gracefulness in the cadences, and a lovely control of rhythm in the sentences, which do justice to the themes of loss and love that are at the center of this memoir. There is also a level of coiled and accurately conveyed emotion, a careful way of telling truth, and an unsparing release of heartbreak.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Testament of Mary
“From an incident of heartbreaking violence, Justin St. Germain has created a clear-eyed and deeply moving meditation on family, geography, and memory, and how difficult it is to find our place in any of them. Son of a Gun is an extraordinary memoir.”—Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds
“Intelligent and compassionate at every step . . . Justin St. Germain stares down his troubled Tombstone boyhood. This is a searing story bravely told.”—Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn
“Try not to fall in love with one of the most beautifully raw, brutally honest memoirs I’ve read—I dare you.”—Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon
“[A] searing, brilliant dazzler of a memoir . . . Justin St. Germain has written one of the great memoirs of the American Southwest.”—Three Guys One Book
“Taut . . . audacious . . . compelling . . . Admirably, St. Germain tries to understand how his young adulthood was shaped.”—Kirkus Reviews