#IMWAYR: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil!

Hi everyone! I'll be honest, I didn't read much at all this week—as of last week, I had already read like 80% of the book I'm reviewing today. This upcoming week, I'm going to actually get a graphic novel out and read more for fun, but until then, I'll just share my full review of last week's book with you all!

But first...

The Kidlit Lovers' Meetup!

In case you missed it, I've announced the first two dates for the Kidlit Lovers' Meetup! This is a chance for us kidlit book bloggers and readers to get together on Zoom and talk about books, reading, blogging, and more. And the meetups will be on Sunday, June 23, 2024 from 5-6 PM Pacific, and Wednesday, July 24, 2024 from 4-5 PM Pacific.


I hope to see as many of you there as I can—I can't wait!!!

Adult Books:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Written by John Berendt
1994

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a sublime and seductive reading experience. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this true-crime book has become a modern classic.

· · · · · ·

I read this book for a book club I'll be attending soon, and regardless of how I feel about the book itself, I can't deny what other people (including my fellow bloggers) have also said—you can't put this book down. I often read graphic novels because I get bogged down in the length (and corresponding time commitment) of longer books, but I raced through this in a breezy five days.

The characters in this book are real people, since this is nonfiction (mostly, as I'll get to). So they're not necessarily made to be likable or unlikable. I'd say that, as much as I really don't endorse a single person in the book (many of them are casually racist, among other traits), they are all enormously fascinating. John Berendt brings all those characters mentioned in the publisher's description above to life, with engaging dialogue and endlessly specific details. The book feels like a case study of human nature—and not just the characters' nature, but also our nature, as we relate to characters and their experiences perhaps more than we'd actually like to. And there are individual aspects of specific characters that I do really love, like one person's ability to welcome pretty much anyone and be comfortable around them, or another's dedication to playing the piano and bringing music into countless people's lives.

On the note of characters, I generally appreciate Berendt's willingness to depict them without injecting his own biases. I suspect that's why, despite this book being from 1994, we have a thorough depiction of a transgender woman, The Lady Chablis, that has aged surprisingly well! I honestly don't think Berendt himself understands the nuances of queer identity, but by letting Chablis explain her own experiences in great detail, it feels to readers as though she is telling her own story, rather than it being filtered through someone else. She is not a perfect person either, but if I had to pick a single character to root for, it's her, 100 percent.

I don't love that Berendt, in trying to chronicle the people of Savannah in a realistic way, kind of plays both sides simultaneously. Issues of race and queerness are at the story's core, but Berendt seems just as comfortable around bigoted characters as he is around the people their bigotry is directed at. And beyond that, Berendt is mighty comfortable spending his days in the company of an accused murderer—I'm sure he had doubts about doing that, but he certainly doesn't say so in the story. It does sometimes feel like Berendt hides behind a wall of "truth! journalism! the pursuit of knowledge!" to avoid implicating himself in all the dynamics he witnesses.

I also don't love that Berendt fictionalized several details in the story (beware of spoilers at the link), not all of which seem necessary to me. Berendt seems to me like an impartial narrator, but that's because it's how he portrays himself—as it turns out, he took liberties in a few places. My sense is that about 95% of the book is still true, so I don't feel like it all loses its meaning or anything like that. At the same time, I wonder what Berendt isn't telling us—he has a vested interest in depicting these characters in the way that creates the most engrossing and addictive story possible.

All that said, if this book sounds intriguing to you, absolutely read it. Unlike what I usually read, this isn't a book where you need to love the author or characters to love the story. There is truth and depth in this narrative even if no one in the story calls it out (or even understands it)—Berendt's ability to capture what happened in such great detail makes sure of that.

That's everything—have a wonderful week! ✨✨

Comments

  1. This book has been on my radar for ages, but I have never read it. If I didn't feel already bogged down by the books I already have, I would probably read it now after reading your review.
    These days I am immersed in Robert M. Sapolsky's Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, and am coming to suspect that this kind of (almost unbiased) journalism, might be better than the kind that ends up positing the reader in us vs them scenarios. I'm absolutely positive that if we can't find bridges of similarities, we are screwed.

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  2. I read this book years ago, but hardly remember it. I've always wanted to go to Savannah so maybe someday soon I'll get there and reread this before I go.

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  3. Hi Max! You've reminded me that I may want to read this one again. It is a wonderful story. Glad you're going to have some good people in your group! Sorry I can't make it, but know you'll have such fun! Have a lovely rest of the week!

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  4. I am considering joining a summer reading challenge where one of the prompts is to read a book outside your usual genres. True crime would definitely qualify for me. This isn't the kind of book I normally read at all, but your review does make it sound intriguing. (I have also read that it's good on audio, though it seems like a lot to keep track of in that format.) I'm really looking forward to the kidlit meetup--now if I can just manage to get the calendar invite on my calendar and not forget about it....

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  5. This sounds like a book I'd like. That's cool you're in a book club. I'm in a neighborhood book club and really love it. I think your first kidlit meetup is when my book club meets, but I'll try to come to the next one.

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  6. I hope you enjoy the discussion in your book club as well. It's a terrific book that should have a lively conversation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  7. Looking forward to the meet up, thank you for organizing!

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Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them! ✨✨

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