Sheryl St. Germain opens her newest book, 50 Miles, with a simple statement: “My son was born into a family cursed with substance abuse.”
It’s this curse St. Germain explores in her collection of intertwining essays that examine the life, the struggles, and the eventual death of her son, Gray. Along the way, she also looks at her own clashes with addiction, struggles that mirror the demons that haunted many of her family members including her father and her brother.
The first essays in the book detail her son’s early challenges. In one essay, for instance, she notes that Gray’s poor experiences in kindergarten could have been the start of his life-long battles with addiction. In other essays, she details his teenage and young adult years, chronicling his life’s highs and lows. In some pieces, she is optimistic about his recovery; in other essays she is not.
Then, masterfully, St. Germain interrupts the story of her son’s life with short concise prose pieces that relay the anguish she experienced when learning about Gray’s death from a heroin overdose.
Afterwards, St. Germain’s work become more contemplative. In the book’s longest essay, she contemplates her relationship with her son through their shared love of specific videogames. Her final essay in the book is a call to action of sorts as she writes about her own experiences with writing groups and those in drug and alcohol treatment programs.
In short, 50 Miles is a heart wrenching read. St. Germain is a master at conveying emotion without sentimentality. Sometimes she grieves through anger; sometimes, she takes to the wild looking for peace. Yes, the reader feels her deep loss, but still closes the book with a sense of hope.
50 Miles by Sheryl St. Germain. Etruscan Press, 2020.
About the reviewer: Karen J. Weyant’s essays and poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals including Barren Magazine, Copper Nickel, Crab Creek Review, cream city review, Lake Effect, River Styx, and Whiskey Island. The author of two poetry chapbooks, she lives and writes in Pennsylvania but teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York.