Book Reviews

Book Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – Quirky Southern Slice of Life with a Murder Besides

I had this book on my “to read” list for quite some time. It’s one of those books I heard much about but had never chosen as my next one to read until recently. It’s not a conventional story by any means. It’s more of a slice of life that is wrapped around a murder.

Author John Berendt was the editor for New York Magazine when he began spending time in Savannah, Georgia. He was fascinated by the eccentricities in this city that seemed sheltered from the repercussions of the Civil War over 100 years earlier. It is a small town in a big city where old families know each other. It is steeped in the traditions of the Old South, even among the black population. It is also a time of transition as new ideas begin to permeate the society.

Jim Williams is central to the story. He’s a relatively new resident who has made quite a splash in the city, hosting parties that people covet the invitation for. Allegedly he’s just an antique dealer, but in reality, he’s much, much more. If you’ve seen the movie, he’s central to the story. Indeed, it’s his murder trial that’s at the focal point for everything else going on. The author sets up the quirky characters in the city, then describes their reactions to the events that happen. The result is a quirky slice of life that would seem to be a work of fiction, but it isn’t.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It was a fun read as Berendt acts as an observer amidst all of the characters that inhabit the city. I could feel the affection he had for the place and people in his writing. Everyone talks to him with their own angle of how they want the city to be presented once they realize he’s writing a book about them, but at the same time, the quirkiness keeps coming through. Savannah is a unique place where time seems to have passed by, while at the same time, progress is coming to the city whether they like it or not. It’s a tale of a city at a crossroads, and it will make you want to visit.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is about much more than Jim Williams. There are debutante balls, drag queens, and voodoo. There are friends and enemies, sometimes the same people. If you’ve seen the movie but not read the book, I recommend it for a more complete picture of what life was like in Savannah at this time.