Thursday, December 8, 2011

Savannah was invariably gracious to strangers, but it was immune to their charms

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I didn't know much about the book other than 1) it takes place in Savannah, 2) there was a murder, 3) it is a true story, 4) my dad really liked the book and he has pretty good taste. I assumed this was sort of a horror story, like In Cold Blood. I mean there's a murder. And just look at that title. And that cover. I even planned on reading it in October until I decided I had spent too much on books that month and put it off. I ended up reading it over Thanksgiving since I was at my dad's and he happens to have a copy. Like I said, he likes the book. He even has a statue similar to the one on the cover.

As I said, I thought this was a horror story or at least a thriller. Imagine my surprise when I was totally wrong about that. This is not a horror story. It's a travelogue that focuses more on the characters John Berendt met during his time in Savannah than any particular museums or landmarks. And it's hilarious. That murder, the one that shows up at the start of every summary I've seen, shows up about half-way into the book. This isn't to say these summaries are misleading by describing this event since in actuality it is the only real action that happens. And I should say possible murder/possible self-defense. To summarize the rest of the book you get: "John decided to move part time to Savannah and while there he meets a lot of people." Other than the killing, that's all that happens.

The action isn't important though. It's the characters that I fell in love with. It's hard to believe this is nonfiction because the characters are so colorful. I love all of them. Of course there's Jim Williams, the antique dealer who lives in a glorious house and throws the Christmas party of the year. And Danny Hansford, a hot headed youth that has a strange run of the Williams home. A man that walks an invisible dog, a woman that sings all over the county and if she's ever caught driving drunk the cops are to immediately take her home (and are punished by superiors if they try to arrest her). But my favorite characters are the lovable con-man Joe, who makes constant comments to John about who will play him in the movie that will be made of the little book he's writing, and The Lady Chablis, a pre-op transsexual and drag performer who has my favorite scene at the local African-American debutante ball. I want to watch the movie now primarily because The Lady Chablis plays herself in the movie. (Please, if you've seen the movie, let me know if it's any good!)

This was such a great book. I'm sad I waited so long to read it. I'm thinking I'm going to have to pick up my own copy of it eventually, because this is a book I'm going to want to read again and again.

Title quote from page 230 (I think. Around there anyway. I borrowed the book from my Dad and the book is currently sitting in South Carolina rather than with me so I can't double check these things. I remembered to record a quote but forgot to mark down the page number.)

Berendt, John. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Random House, 1994.