The history of violence is a long one — tangled and circular, it cuts like barbed wire, leaving a trail of blood and devastation. In Justin St. Germain’s brilliant and thought-provoking memoir, “Son of a Gun,” readers are given a true account of violence through the lens of childhood, reinforcing what Kate DiCamillo once said: “Everything, as you well know, cannot always be sweetness and light.”
Justin’s mother, Debbie, was once a pillar of fortitude, a woman who once served in the armed forces, protecting strangers near and far. But there existed a weakness within her, a flaw that could not be undone: an attraction for violent men.
Throughout his childhood, Justin and his older brother, Josh, had come to know their mother’s taste in the opposite sex. Often belligerent and abusive, these men gave the young boys a harrowing reflection of what it meant to be a father figure — the men not only demonstrating cruelty to their mother, but also extending such violence to them. Unfortunately, one day in 2001, only days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Justin became all too aware that his mother’s history of romantic love proved futile and, ultimately, deadly:
“When I reached our driveway, I got off my bike to check the mailbox. The screen door flew open and my brother emerged, red faced and weeping, phone in hand, struggling to speak through the tears and mucus, his shrinking throat — but that struggle wasn’t necessary, because I had never seen him anything like that before, so I knew what he was going to say. […] I hoped he never found his voice.”
At 20 years old, Justin was made aware of his mother’s death. At the hand of her fifth husband, a reckless and unbalanced former police officer, she was found murdered in cold blood.
The event forces Justin to question everything he ever knew about the world and why, even in his adulthood, he was unable to stop it. Much of the work focuses on Justin’s recollection of the past in order to keep his mother’s memory in tact. More than anything, the memoir helps Justin move toward closure, even after justice is served.
“Son of a Gun” is far from “sweetness and light,” as Justin does not stray from the most intimate and dark of details. However, withstanding the often difficult nature of the events and recollection of memories, Justin takes readers on a pilgrimage of self-discovery. Even in a world filled with violence, Justin’s courage and reflections of life demonstrate that love will always conquer evil.
‘Son of a Gun’ by Justin St. Germain Rating: W W W W W