A new memoir, by young author Justin St. Germain, documents his reckoning with his mother’s murder in Tombstone, Arizona. The murder took place in 2001 in a trailer on the outskirts of town, and though the facts of the incident present no mystery in the literal sense, St. Germain’s book is “the story of a quest” to understand the event, as Julia Keller writes on NPR.
Keller also underlines the book’s vivid portrayal of Tombstone: a town where tourists stroll past the OK Corral where Wyatt Earp and a rival gang shot it out in 1881, picking up toy pistols and ice cream. A town that St. Germain describes as baking with summer heat: “The streets shimmered like rivers.”
But as the author describes in a new Rumpus interview, St. Germain’s focus in creating the book was on crafting a work that transcended his personal experience. The issue of violence—and the culture of violence—was forefront in his mind.
“I had grown up in that culture, but I didn’t understand it all until she died. Then I’m looking around and hearing these things like the Tombstone marshal saying she was a “black widow”—it was basically one hundred variations of the same thing; it was her fault for blank: for dating him, for being married more than once—and it infuriated me at the time. Honestly, learning that was one of the worst parts of the experience, and it was a really quick realization. Once you see violence or violence against women, you see it everywhere.
“I think my mother’s death opened my eyes to other stories of violence, especially, but not exclusively, man-on-woman violence. Whereas before I largely ignored or overlooked how common it is, once I was looking for it, it seemed like every news story was about domestic violence, so many aspects of our mass culture contained and sometimes glorified it, and so many people I’ve known or met since have experienced it. I thought my mother’s death was unusual at the time, but in fact one of the most disturbing things about domestic violence is that it’s so ordinary.
“And yet I didn’t really know how to approach that in the book. It was something I wanted to talk about and write about. One of the real takeaways of growing up around a lot of domestic violence is the fear of becoming that and the knowledge that if you just go by statistics—I’m a white man from a working-class background who was around a lot of domestic violence—I fit the profile exactly. I was both the narrator and a member of the demographic that’s perpetrating all this. It was a constant tension I was aware of. I could say how it affected me, but I don’t really know how it affected her.”
There’s more about the book in Alexandra Fuller’s worth-reading review on the NY Times.
Photo by Flickr user PhillipC