Monday, March 14, 2016

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

It's really a miracle that Justin ended up a successful writer, when his whole life was leading towards a bad end. His mother, while well-meaning, a good mom, and a qualified paratrooper, made dozens of bad decisions in her life, each getting worse. Justin was not yet 20, flunking out of community college, when his brother got the worst call imaginable: their mother had been murdered and their step-father was the suspect. He was her fifth husband, and one who didn't physically abuse her (they hoped) so he didn't seem as bad as some of them had been, although the failed ex-cop turned out (obviously) to be the worst. Justin remembers his peripatetic childhood, moving from town to town, and even when they settled in Tombstone, Arizona, moving from apartment to trailer to boyfriend's house. His father left when he was very young and never paid child support. Step-fathers varied in terms of their abusiveness and fatherliness, His mother flitted from job to job, always working very hard, but never getting much of anywhere. Without focus and with a bit of a hippy streak, the family often were on the edge of poverty, sometimes almost homeless.

As an adult who has turned his life around and decided not to be white trash (his words), Justin returns to Tombstone from San Francisco and tracks down old boyfriends, ex-husbands, old friends, the detective who worked the case, and others. He tries to piece together what happened with his mother and Ray and how everything went so wrong. I'm not sure anyone who wasn't there can ever fully understand something like this, but he does at least end up in a place of understanding and a sad peace.

While no where near the caliber of books this one is compared too, it is captivating and a fast read. It's hard to put down as you wonder what lead to this, what happened to Ray, and could this murder have been prevented. It wasn't heart-wrenching even though the subject matter is necessarily depressing, and the author at times felt at a remove from the events, even though it was his own mother's death he's talking about. The flashbacks were well done and the research seemed to be as thorough as possible (even if still full of gaps) but overall it was an enjoyable book, so long as you're aware of the subject matter going in.

I bought this book at The Book Rack, my local used bookstore.

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