A taut, grim memoir weighing Western mythology against a family tragedy.
Central to this debut from St. Germain (Creative Writing/Univ. of New Mexico) is a horrific yet all-too-common act of domestic violence. While he was a struggling undergraduate, his mother was murdered by her fifth husband, Ray, who killed himself after a few months on the run. His mother was sexually independent, a former Army paratrooper and a small-business owner in Tombstone, Ariz., “the toughest woman I’ve ever known.” Nonetheless, St. Germain was long concerned about her, as she married Ray (a taciturn cop who seemed like a “good guy” after several abusive relationships) and then embarked with him on a strange “adventure” that appeared to be an aimless drift through the Southwest. Before this, however, the author paints an acerbic picture of his upbringing in Tombstone: “Broke, single, getting fat, drunk, seventeen: I was white trash.” St. Germain thus constructs an audacious framework for his memoir, indirectly implicating Tombstone’s sour, touristy culture and the Western myths derived from the famous altercation at the O.K. Corral in his ponderings as to how his mother’s unorthodox life choices may have contributed to her fate. Some of these comparisons are compelling, such as the author’s examination of the unsavory distance between myth and reality in the real life of Wyatt Earp; others are less fully explored, as when he briefly looks at contemporary gun culture in his account of his attempt to purchase the small handgun that killed his mother. Admirably, St. Germain tries to understand how his young adulthood was shaped by the murder, and he considers the costs of the idea of American masculinity that seemingly produces inevitable bloodshed. Although he doggedly reconstructs the final months of his mother’s life, any real resolution seems limited: “I know more about Wyatt Earp than I do about my mother.”
An above-average personal narrative that takes a hard look at the aftermath of violence.