Justin St. Germain

Son of a Gun


Son of a Gun is an intriguing if depressing memoir, here and there written in the style of a novel, populated by a cast of the oddest misfits you are ever likely to come across in just under 250 pages.

The author’s mother, who managed a Mexican restaurant in Tombstone before fatally turning her back on society, is discovered shot to death in a horse trailer in a desert in Arizona, murdered apparently by her fifth husband cop (she is still in her forties) who flees the scene in a pick up, shoots himself in the head, is discovered some time after, his badly decomposed body desiccated by heat like a mummy, and eaten by worms. If you think you have witnessed this scene before, you have, in CSI: Las Vegas.

So far, so bad, but it gets worse. St. Germain, whose staccato style becomes wearisome, has an extended family which includes a biological father who is a cheapskate, several absent step-fathers, a fag smoking half-cousin who borrows rent and dies alone, a junkie uncle who has tragically lost two kids and shoots up in the bathroom when he comes to stay and the family dog who, wait for it, is out of his barking mind on meds – human.  And then there’s husband number five, detective Ray, Desert Storm veteran who almost loses it when the kids beat him at Scrabble. A laugh a minute it ain’t.

The author’s attachment to the memory of his dead mother is affectionate and runs deep: several times we are reminded she was warned that a second child would mean a Caesarean birth, but she had Justin anyway, badly haemorrhages and requires a hysterectomy to save her life. Blood is the rose of mysterious disunion in this tale, which in parts reads like a Spaghetti Western version of Angela’s Ashes. There is no let up for a moment in the dystopian gloom.

The Tombstone of old Western lore, is, through the author’s lens,  a town with ten bars and no grocery store, ‘smack in the middle of the biggest drug trafficking corridor in America.’ Even the murder takes place shortly after 9/11: all that’s missing is an earthquake followed by a tsunami.

Naturally, because she is the victim, and she had five hubbies in twenty years, Debbie St. Germain is the beneficiary of the most fully rounded profile in the book. As her son writes with a detached gracefulness, ‘of all the homes she had, all the temporary places with temporary men, the worst was where she died.’

When the author grows up, which takes an age, he sleeps with a loaded rifle under his bed, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Writing a painful memoir of this nature, and it is painful, should, at most, prove cathartic, but somehow I doubt Justin St. Germain is any the better for it. Colm Toibin has referred to a coiled and accurately conveyed emotion, but my take could be summed up in a single word: bitter. St. Germain needs to get himself off to Amsterdam for a weekend, and acquire a smile.


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