Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the twists and turns of a landmark murder case. It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen Miss Chablis; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a sublime and seductive reading experience. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city has become a modern classic.
Without a doubt, when I think of this book, I smile and wish I could find more non-fiction/murder-mystery/hilarious drag-queen/voodoo priestess/Georgia-admiring book like it; I absolutely loved it. I consistently had to keep reminding myself that the book was a true story; the main plot line was believable, but the people whose lives the Author captured on paper had me shaking my head in disbelief that they were real-life.
My mom of all people recommended this book to me (I say "of all people" because Mom does not read; recently always saying that she has no idea where my book-loving gene came from). I remember her having it at the house I grew up in in the bottom part of her nightstand (ridiculous sometimes the little silly things I remember), and she's told me for many many years I needed to read it, but I didn't actually give it a try until this year. This may be the only book my Mom has read; don't hold me to that but her list is certainly not long. Sidenote: When I was younger, we went on a roadtrip to the south and purposefully spent a day in Savannah, driving by the houses discussed in the book and seeing the statues and squares mentioned. I don't remember it vividly, but I did remember a sense of feeling like we had gone back in time. Everything was beautifully maintained, and there was a very slow, southern way about the people.
I can see where this type of book may not be well-suited for everyone. Having been to Savannah now a few times, its very easy to appreciate this book, where I could see someone who has never been may not be as drawn. Take this tidbit of my advice: While the author has several lead characters, by far and without any doubt, his primary character is Savannah, Georgia itself.....and he makes you fall in love. If you do decide to try the book out, if by the time you meet Lady Chablis you are not a fan, you may as well put that book down and move along. Lady Chablis is hilarious, reminds me of a guy I went to college with, and has a fire-cracker attitude I would kill for. Another sidenote: In the movie, Lady Chablis is the real actress for her own character. Just thought that was cool since that does not happen very often in movies.
Speaking of the movie: unfortunately a major disappointment. Granted I am only 26, so maybe I do not have the appreciation that a more mature audience member may have for films from the 1990's (when explaining one day how bad the movie was to Allison, Terry got all uptight with, "what's wrong with the 90's?! Some of the best movies of ALL TIMES are from the 90's!!" .... I love that boy!). Kevin Spacey was a good pick for the role he played, but it just didn't hold true to the feeling I got from the book. Savannah was a supporting actress and it changed the entire vibe from the transition from book to film.
I just shipped the book off to Allison, but if anyone has interest to borrow it next, let me know and I can have her send it to you next.