While attending the University of Arizona, Justin St. Germain returns home from classes one afternoon only to be informed by his brother that their mother, Debbie, has been murdered in Tombstone, Arizona.
Shot in the back in her trailer, Debbie appears to have been the victim of domestic violence gone to the ultimate extreme. Her current husband, number five, has gone missing and is the prime suspect.
Given Debbie’s somewhat troubled history in Tombstone, both with a succession of ill-fated marriages and relationships, as well as in her business dealings, her murder amounts to little more than a blip on the locals’ radar–fodder for bar gossip and not much more.
For twenty-year-old Justin, however, his mother’s murder marks a very clear turning point in his life, even though it will take him nearly seven years to realize it and embark on the journey that led to Son of a Gun: A Memoir.
At first resentful of his mother and the unsettled, semi-nomadic, “white trash” life she forced him to endure growing up, St. Germain vows to put everything related to his past in the past, and moves to San Francisco. Despite achieving success, he finds himself oddly unsettled…and sleeping with a gun under his bed. He finally realizes he will never have closure and be able to truly move on with his future until he revisits his past, specifically his mother’s murder.
What unfolds in Son of a Gun is the journey St. Germain undertook to try and understand how a woman who was once a take no shit Army paratrooper spiraled down into a series of dead end relationships and jobs, constantly uprooting and moving the family from one temporary living arrangement to another. The result is a brutally honest, and moving, account of a man willing to reexamine everything he thought he knew to be true about the woman who both gave him his life and forever scarred it through her actions.
In a refreshing change of pace for this type of memoir, however, St. Germain genuinely comes to the process with an open heart and mind, no agenda, not set on casting anyone in the role of hero or villain, saint or martyr. In going back through public records surrounding the murder, and directly confronting people from Debbie’s and his past, including her string of ex-husbands, St. Germain paints as full and unbiased a picture as one could ever expect under the circumstances. In the process, he comes to learn more not just about his mother, but how forces and events larger than them both had influenced and shrouded his life.
Son of a Gun is not always an easy read–it can’t be given how close to the bone St. Germain has cut, how bare he has laid things out–but it’s undeniably a powerful one.
Son of a Gun is available from Random House (ISBN: 978-1400068623).
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