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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story Paperback – June 28, 1999
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Frequently bought together
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (June 28, 1999)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0679751521
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679751526
- Item Weight : 10.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.16 x 0.83 x 7.91 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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But enough about me. I love this book for its rich characters - Minerva, the Voodoo priestess, Chablis, the trans princess, Jim Odom, the charming lawyer-criminal throwing perpetual parties...only a few of the people of this book who now seem so real to me. The stories will linger with you like the moral ambiguity of Savannah, beautiful but fickle, indifferent but engaging. And I know, for my part, I will revisit it enthusiastically from time to time.
I gave up in frustration. What a disappointment. Savannah, just like every other American city is rich with interesting history and characters. Tell us a story about it, them or ANYTHING sometime soon please.
PS - I recall seeing the movie years ago and believe it took place in New Orleans not Savannah. Like the book, it was in love with itself for whatever reason.
But, these were all real people, and that brings the book up to 4 stars.
When this book first came out about 25 years ago, I remember that I was in our local public library and I saw the cover and was captivated by it. I never did pick up the book , because I had too many others at just that moment. (For the record, that captivating cover was the "Bird Girl" statue.)
25 years later, I did get the paperback--with the same cover-- and I'd have to say that that is one childhood conflict that was satisfied.
The United States is such a huge place, that it is easy to forget that not everybody does things the same way across the entire country. And there are enclaves that have survived much as they are for the last several hundred years. Savannah is one such of those enclaves.
It also shows me good and decent black people doing classy things, and there are only a few books that deal with that. (In that way, this book reminds me of Dorothy West's book "The Living is Easy.")
Verdict: Recommended at the second hand price.
Top reviews from other countries
The authors’ ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style often created a remote and objective ‘feel’ to the story. Thus,one did not fully engage with the characters on an emotional level . This, I believe, allowed freedom in not judging but sitting back and enjoying the description and actions of the characters to the full. It was almost like watching a play in which all the action was true and all the more astounding because of it.
A great book. Extremely funny at times.
Leaving the reader to judge was refreshing. Amid it all, a man was killed and one questions whether justice was done.
A good book club book.
I'd heard of the book but it was viewing the film (1997) that caused me to buy and devour the book. How fortunate in being able to see the same story so successfully treated in two genres. But is it the same story? Not quite.
Clint Eastwood's direction is full of colour and yet it is centred on the murder of Billy Hanson by Jim Williams. The victim is well played by Jude Law and the horror of his last smile will haunt me for some time. However, it is Kevin Spacey who hypnotises the audience in his portrayal of the wealthy, and menacingly calm, Williams. The other character to remain with me for some time is that of the Lady Chablis, an over-the-top cameo if ever there was. Essentially the film is a mixture of comedy and thriller, set in a colourful city, which culminates in a dramatic trial. Eastwood has been criticised for the slow approach but he has discarded much of the book, merged characters and transferred conversations and encounters to tighten the subject-matter. He succeeds but simplification removed much of the fascination of that collection of weird personalities which dominate the book. For example, the cinematic Lady Chablis dominates visually: on the page it's the flexibility of her tongue which amazes. Luther Driggers on film is just weird: in the book he's a REAL eccentric - and his wife, hilarious. Joe Odom takes a back-seat in the film (and some of his characteristics are `stolen' by Jim Williams while his girlfriend, Mandy, becomes the love- interest which is but an intrusion into the overall mood). Minerva in the film stays a macabre enigma: in the book she spews out a flood of mumbo-jumbo while obsessed with a catalogue of petty anxieties. What may appear weaknesses in the film are due largely to the need to get the story over in 155 minutes.
With a book the author has no such trouble. So Jim Morrison can play with his guests and yet stay a character relating to all those in the tale. So we have Joe Odom as the `sentimental gentleman' who never quite matures; Mandy Nichols whose loyalty is shattered along with her illusions; Luther Driggers, `the inventor', is easier to understand - even if he does tape flies to his head; Emma Kelly is `the lady with six thousand songs'; Danny Hansford (why was his name changed to Billy Hanson?) is a `walking streak of sex', The Lady Chablis delights as `the Grand Empress of Savannah'; the slimy Lee Sadler, believing `It aint braggin' if y'really done it', who orchestrates the onslaught on Jim Williams, never appears on screen. My quotations are chapter titles in the book so you can appreciate the depth of characterisation.
The city of Savannah is the star, with the descriptions of its rich past and transformed future. The reader can appreciate the vibrant rivalries under the surface of this transformation: the film-goer can just suck in the splendours of that miracle.
There's a quirkiness in the dialogue and the thinking patterns of the characters which gripped an Englishman like myself. It's not just how life moves along differently, it's how the actors interpret that life as it proceeds. For example, Jim Williams never expects to be charged with murder when considering the lax attitude towards killing in Savannah - among certain sections of the community. Women like Vera Dutton Strong, Emma Adler, Serena Dawes and Claire Moultrie are delights on the page but omitted from the film because of their irrelevance to the main plot.
My conclusion is quite simple. To really enjoy 'Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil' both read the book and see the film - and then do it over again so you can appreciate how each plays off the other. You'll get more than double the fun.
Part True-Crime thriller, part travelogue, part quirky character study and part eulogy on man's love of a city, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a truly unique book, and that is something that you can't say too often anymore.
The book revolves around the true life case of Jim Williams and his trial for his lover/employee Danny. Williams insisted it was self-defence, but the city were determined to charge him with murder. But the murder is just a centre piece for a study of the eccentric city of Savannah, clinging to the past and it's own inimitable style in the Old South. It is a city concerned with enjoyment and hedonism, but never in a self-destructive way, inward looking, but not prohibitively and it is populated by a cast of characters that are so bizarre as to be real.
Men walking imaginary dogs, erudite conmen, voodoo priestesses and rowdy transexuals fill the pages of this novel and make it eminently readable. Indeed so intriguing are the people within the book that it is very easy to get swept along with the sheer enjoyment of the place and to forget that the book revolves around a very real killing.
Berendt has managed to create something which spans many genres, but holds a place that is firmly it's own and that, like Savannah is something to be celebrated in this age of idendikit, fads and fashions.
The social traditions of the Deep South take quite a beating as the story progresses.
As I read this book in the kindle edition without introduction, I am unable to comment on the authenticity of the story or whether these outrageous characters are drawn from life or cleverly tweeked into existence by the author John Berendt.
There are moments when the flow of the narrative tends to falter as we turn from a hilarious tea party back to the court case then retreat to a character we haven't seen for a few chapters but all in all, I found this a very entertaining and different read.