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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah Story ()

Vintage Books List of the Best Reading Group Books (36)

    You'd have to be a complete wet blanket not to have a good time reading John Berendt's Midnight
    in the Garden of Good and Evil.
        -Charles Taylor, Salon Magazine

Apparently, I am that proverbial wet blanket.  Throughout the 80's, John Berendt, an Esquire columnist living in New York, took advantage of cut rate airfares to travel the United States before determining:

    An idea was beginning to take shape in my mind.  I would make Savannah my second home. I
    would spend perhaps a month at a time in Savannah, long enough to become more than a tourist if
    not quite a full-fledged resident. I would inquire, observe, and poke around wherever my curiosity
    led me or wherever I was invited. I would presume nothing. I would take notes.

It was his enormous good fortune that on May 2, 1981, Jim Williams, a colorful (but then who in the book isn't?) antiques dealer, shot and killed his hotheaded young boyfriend Danny Hansford.  The subsequent legal tangles give his story a mild plot line, though by the time all of the trials have concluded Savannah and the author seem to be pretty tired of it, and the reader certainly will be.  But the real point of the book is to display the vast collection of truly bizarre characters the author found in this gothic Southern town.  As The Lady Chablis, a black transvestite, says:   "The South is one big drag show."

So if you find staring into a moral cesspool amusing, this is the book for you.  Personally, I felt like I was in the Coliseum watching Nero feed Christians to the lions (see Orrin's review of Quo Vadis?).  As our economy continues to crank out bread, our culture seems more and more to offer us circuses like this one.  Of course, the difference is that in this case there are no Christians.  In fact, the book should really be called Midnight in the Garden of Degenerate and Evil--there's no Good that's readily apparent.  There is a significant strain of thought in Right Wing ideology, particularly among the Christian Right, that we are in the end of days, that Western Culture has become so decadent that it's demise must be imminent.  I am much more optimistic than that, but reading this book certainly made it seem as if the doomsayers have a point.


Grade: (C-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOKNOTES: Author: John Berendt Title: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Air Date: September 28, 1997 (CSPAN)
    -EXCERPT: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil By John Berendt Chapter One: An Evening in Mercer House
    -INTERVIEW: Getting Deep in the South: John Berendt's dark bestseller about Savannah has been made into a film. He talks to Quentin Curtis  (April 8, 1998 -- London Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: NY Times OnLine
    -CHAT:  Chat Transcripts:  John Berendt, author of: Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil (July 8,1998, Lycos)
    -ESSAY: OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS:  HIGH-HEEL NEIL At some of the finer spots frequented by Southern society, one Republican businessman stands out for his love of adventure -- and a Well-cut dress. (JOHN BERENDT, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Savannah (John Berendt, Esquire)
    -Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Random House)
    -Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil Site (SavannahNOW and the Savannah Morning News)
    -We Love Midnight
    -John Berendt: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Book Browse)
    -DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Questions for Discussion on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
    -AUDIO ESSAY: SAVANNAH BIG TIME -- NPR's Elizabeth Arnold visits Savannah, Georgia...the setting for John Berendt's best-selling "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The non-fiction book tells the story of a murder and the real-life characters surrounding the crime. It's been on the best seller list for almost 3 years and has led to an increase in tourism and retail in Savannah (Morning Edition, NPR)
    -ARTICLE: Yankee Who Captured Savannah Is Its Hero  (KEVIN SACK SAVANNAH, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: ABOUT NEW YORK; 'Midnight': It's Morning For Author  (Michael T. Kaufman, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Dawn in the Garden of Good and Evil : Georgia's founding father knew best, but Savannah didn't stay unsinful for long (Smithsonian)
    -REVIEW: of MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL A Savannah Story. By John Berendt (Glenna Whitley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: (Lavender Salon: Reviews of Gay & Lesbian Books)
    -REVIEW: Narratives of Race and Sexuality  John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  (Katja Kanzler, Twin Peaks)
    -REVIEW: Good versus Evil in the sordid streets of Savannah (Andy Blossom, TJ Today)
    -REVIEWS: (Epinions)

    -Official Site
    -INFO: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) (Imdb)
    -REVIEW: (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW: (-Peter Keough, Boston Phoenix)

    -Savannah Morning News