St. Olaf College | Office of the President

Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson

By Juan F. Thompson

Alfred A. Knopf 2016

This book opens with the following statement:

This is a Memoir, not a biography, a highly subjective and unreliable memoir of how my father and I got to know each other over forty-one years until his suicide in 2005. It is filled with exaggerations, misstatements, faulty recollections, obfuscations, omissions, and elisions. It also contains a lot of truth about my father and me, more truth than falsehoods, I think.

I wish every book opened with such a clear and candid statement of its purpose.

Don’t read it if you’re looking for stories about Hunter S. Thompson’s antics as a gonzo journalist. You can get that in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Do read it if you are interested in a probing, uncomfortable account of how a shy, unconfident, sensitive young man grew up with and finally, as an adult, came to terms with, a narcissistic, violent, irresponsible, alcoholic, famous father.

Juan Thompson certainly isn’t the first person to point out that memoirs are notoriously unreliable as regards the facts. The stories they tell are filtered through the writer’s own consciousness, so of course they will contain those many characteristics named in the quotation above. However, in this memoir Juan Thompson’s voice is not that of someone with an agenda. Reading it, you experience someone trying hard to understand how he ultimately came to understand and love an impossible father. That process, which took many years, wasn’t linear by any means. Rather, it moved by fits and starts. It was hard work, and it’s often hard to read about it.

Hunter Thompson shot himself in the head while his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were in the house with him.  To his son this act typified the way he lived his life: choosing to do things his own way in his own time. To me, it’s an act characteristic of Thompson’s disregard for how his needs impacted those around him. He left a large wake. His son writes thoughtfully about how not to drown in those roiling waters.

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