Southern Lit Month: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It really doesn’t need more of an introduction than that. I can’t imagine there is a conscious reader who exists without having at least the vaguest idea of this novel or its film adaptation. My book club selected this book to read for January which ties in nicely to Southern Literature Month taking place on my blog this month. We all blew through it and met up yesterday to share our critical thoughts and gossipy opinions. And it was glorious.

John Berendt wrote for Esquire and New York Magazine before churning out this sordid tale of a 1980s murder that occurred in Savannah, Georgia. Berendt weaves the story of Jim Williams’s shooting of Danny Hansford through his wheelings and dealings with Savannah’s people – her upper crust snobs and her dazzling outcasts. Savannah and her cast of characters upstage the main event and that is not a bad thing.

Because Savannah is a saucy minx, a devilious lush. She has secrets – really scandalous secrets. And for whatever reason, her residents let this Yankee journalist in on so many of them. The pages turned quickly and Google was always open on a computer or phone nearby. You just HAVE to see images of these people, the streets, the architecture as you read along. The ladies and I discussed Savannah at length – how haunted she feels, how gorgeous she is, and even how the trees seem to be looking at you and following your every move! It’s such a unique place with a vast history.

Berendt writes almost episodically. Each chapter feels like a short little love story (or horror story, you decide) dedicated to a city he was only beginning to know and understand. So the pacing was superb. We quibbled over whether or not Midnight could really be considered nonfiction because Mr. Berendt took many, many liberties within the pages. Apparently, for this reason he didn’t win the Pulitzer. But I imagine his version makes for better reading. What shocked the hell out of me was how willing Savannah was to open her doors and share all her demons. But I guess she was just too drunk to care.

So we liked it! We really, really liked it and hope you will too. It’s not perfect. Our author protagonist suffers from what I lovingly call ‘white man disorder’ so sometimes his female, gay, and black characters are left unattended or wrongly attended, perhaps. But for everything he gets wrong, he gets something else as equally spot on. As a Southerner and a native Georgian, I’m glad I read this and can’t wait to seek out the movie. Because Jude Law as a young male hooker just rings a lot of my bells.


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