The novel’s full title is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story and I find that to be a telling detail about John Berendt’s work. This is a story that shows many, but not all, of the facets that make Savannah a unique place. Savannah has been haunting me the past few years. Several family members and friends have made the sojourn to the famous city and all have the same report: “you have to go”. I believe that John Berendt would agree after his 8 years of living on and off in the sequestered city.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tells the story of the Savannah in the 1980s, focusing on the murder trials of Jim Williams. Jim Williams was one of the social centers of upper crust Savannah, a self-made man dealing antiques and restoring the same. He had purchased Mercer House, and it was in that home that he was accused of murdering his lover. Williams and the eventual circus that surrounds him are not the sole foci of the novel; Berendt also introduces the reader to a cast of unusual characters ranging from a black drag queen to a former lawyer turned bar owner to a voodoo priestess. Through the various lenses Berendt draws a picture of Savannah life.
And it’s certainly an interesting life that Savannah leads. It’s the center of a preservation campaign perhaps unmatched by another city of similar size, a hotbed of cotillions, golf clubs, and a hard separation between the white community and the black one, and to many the unwilling home of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Can I say that some of that has changed? I can’t attest personally, but in many ways in sounds like the South as I know it.
On a separate note from the book (and even the movie it was eventually turned into) I want to talk for a moment about e-readers. I have an early model Nook – the kind that uses e-ink technology and is not back-lit. Whenever I read a book on it, instead of a paper copy borrowed from the library or purchased in a moment of indiscretion, I read much slower than average. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon or is it just me?