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Son of a Gun: A Memoir

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  1,388 Ratings  ·  232 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Random House (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jul 22, 2013 Cynthia rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, read-2014
"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 f
Feb 14, 2013 boekverslaafde rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: abused women, memoir fans,
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
Amy Burns
Jan 02, 2013 Amy Burns rated it it was amazing
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.
Sam Sattler
Aug 12, 2013 Sam Sattler rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, true-crime
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
Mar 30, 2013 Bonnie rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
First things first: I received this book free from LibraryThing Early Readers in return for this review. This did not effect my review in any way.

This was a hard book to read and a 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 i
Aug 25, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
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
Maureen Stanton
Feb 13, 2014 Maureen Stanton rated it liked it
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 ...more
Anna Mills
Jan 21, 2013 Anna Mills rated it it was amazing
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; ...more
Nancy Kennedy
Aug 20, 2013 Nancy Kennedy rated it liked it
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
Aug 10, 2013 Alison rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Feb 14, 2013 Erin rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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 ...more
Amber Mcquerrey
May 01, 2013 Amber Mcquerrey rated it it was amazing
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.
Jodi Sh.
Sep 30, 2013 Jodi Sh. rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
Craftwise: Watch how St. Germain uses the legend of Wyatt Earp and Tombstone to move the story along. Powerful story, well told.
Larry H
Oct 23, 2013 Larry H rated it really liked it
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
Sep 17, 2013 Alina rated it it was ok
St. Germain's personal story is full of pain, violence and complicated family history--the building blocks of a fascinating memoir. I was drawn to this book after reading a review that promised the author makes an unflinching examination of his mother's death, how her messy romantic life affected her sons and what happens when the author goes back to his hometown to confront a past that has haunted him. Unfortunately, the promising elements of St. Germaine's story go wasted for lack of a narrati ...more
Rachel Bayles
Aug 03, 2014 Rachel Bayles rated it it was amazing
I got up this morning, read a piece in the paper by Justin St. Germain, and proceeded to read his book in one sitting. I was going to say this was one of the more important books I’ve read, and that was before I got to the ending and realized it was a true story. The whole time I thought I was reading fiction.

This book raises many of the questions that I think are key to the culture of this country. Why the glorification of violence? Why do so many men abuse women? Why do we tell ourselves myths
Aug 20, 2013 Mum rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who liked "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."
I was torn by so many parts of the story. I know the author wanted to understand why he was robbed of his mother's presence long before he was ready. He knows only who most likely murdered her, and how. When is iffy. Why is beyond him, and sadly always will be. That people down on their luck are never a priority for the police. Those crimes will remain unsolved and not investigated beyond the simplest solution. I think he had to take a step back to write this bitter, painful truth, because the r ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this memoir. I enjoyed the way he paralleled things in his life to the Old West stories surrounding Tombstone and Wyatt Earp's life. I grew up not far from Dodge City, so I enjoyed how he was able to take parts of his life and show how they played to the larger-than-life stories from the past.

As with so many memoirs that include domestic abuse as a theme, there isn't really a grand happy ending, and not all loose ends are tied neatly. However, St. Germain tells his story and tha
Tiffany Myers
Feb 15, 2013 Tiffany Myers rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
First things first: I was a lucky winner of this book in a recent Goodreads giveaway. I am conflicted about this book. While reading, I felt connected to the author (who is also the narrator). The writing itself is quality, and the story is worthy. It was not one of those books, though, that makes me want to stay up until 3am when I have to be up at 6am to go to work the next day, so I can finish it. It took a long time for me to read this book. Each time I picked it up, I fell right back in, bu ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Lesleywl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read both true crime and memoirs, and this book was a bridge between both genres and yet stood out on its own. The author does a good job of attempting to look at his Mother's murder and her life, from beyond just his own persepective. Even in analyzing his own life and how he feels about people and events in his past, he does well in reexamining his point of view. In the edition I have, there is a conversation between the author and writer Alexandra Fuller at the back of the book - she descri ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Joan rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I liked this memoir. It is a bit dark because it mainly explores the murder of Justin's mother. I was hoping for a little lightness now and then, a glimer of happieness somewhere in Justin's future; that was never given.
The relationship men have with their mothers is something that hits home for me - a mom of two young men. Only the superficial seems to be communicated between most guys and their mom. They don't really want to hear more than that. I appreciate that Justin now realizes all that
Erin Duffey
Aug 16, 2013 Erin Duffey rated it liked it
My manager used to work with Justin at the newspaper in Arizona when his mother was murdered and she even recalls attending his mother's funeral.

I want to like this. It's an incredible story. And how can you judge someone's memoir? This is THEIR story. He poured his heart out. He investigated. However, I found his writing (perhaps it was the order of events) very disjointed. I had a hard time following when was when, what was where - it was also very hard for me to understand his mother's choice
Apr 05, 2013 Marty rated it really liked it
This is a gritty, true story of the murder of the writers mother. While the story is told in order and you know who did it early on, you learn over time the journey the author took to get where he is today. The story folds back over time and place but each time with new information and the readers interest is renewed.
Most of the story takes place in Tombstone, AZ with flashes back to the Gun fight at the OK and Wyatt Earp and the time Arizona was in its gun slinging days. Time changes but seems
Feb 14, 2013 Paula rated it really liked it
I won this Advanced Readers copy from goodreads and wasn't sure what to expect. This is the true story of the murder of Justin's mother in 2001 in a trailer in a secluded area of Arizona by her husband.

Justin does not sugar coat the life he and his brother had with their mother although, she took very good care of her children and loved them.

This book reflects the anguish and love Justin has for his mother and the yearning to understand Why? I hope this book will help him find the closure and pe
Feb 27, 2015 Jessica rated it it was amazing
This memoir is a slow, dazzling burn. I love the unique approach that St. Germain takes to the challenge of writing a book like this over so many years. The first part of the book feels like it was written in the moment, the second part by a much older, wiser adult. Instead of this being a weakness, it becomes the book's major strength, a powerful demonstration about how memory shapes grief and vice versa. I also love how the societal connections (Wyatt Earp, gun violence in America, violence ag ...more
Kate Ayers
Apr 27, 2013 Kate Ayers rated it really liked it
Memoirs aren't usually my type of reading material, but this one caught my eye. I guess because it's sort of a mystery wrapped inside a true story. The author was only 20 when his mother was murdered. Writing this memoir took a long time, but it was time he needed to work through his anger and self destructive lifestyle following her death. He takes what seems to be an honest look back at how he dealt with the loss, went through the stages of grief and came out the other side. No platitudes, no ...more
Wendy Golding
Mar 31, 2013 Wendy Golding rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
raw, heartfelt story. I feel like I know Justin, he's a real person, like-able and with faults, just like the rest of us. That a child/teenager can grow up in adverse conditions and still be the person he wants to be and continue on the journey to get to a better place is quite inspiring. I would recommend this 'coming of age' story to high school English classes. We can all search for truth in our lives, regardless of the circumstances, and still try and do the best we can, just like Justin did ...more
Aug 17, 2013 Star rated it it was amazing
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?
Jun 26, 2013 Jan rated it really liked it
This is a moving and eloquently told memoir. St Germain's mother was shot to death by her husband, who fled and subsequently committed suicide. St. Germain feels that he has moved on, but when he re-visits his old hometown, where the murder took place, he discovers that he has not yet come to terms with this mother's death.

A story about grief and self-discovery. Highly recommmended.
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Justin St. Germain was born in Philadelphia in 1981. He attended the University of Arizona and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. He lives in Albuquerque and teaches at the University of New Mexico.
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