Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Book Review)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah StoryMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: americana, funny, narrative history, non-fiction, true crime

I was only on page 32 when I wanted to stop reading, travel to Savannah, find a bench in the Bonaventure Cemetery, and continue reading there.

There is a man who walks flies like other people walk dogs, on lengths of thread, and has a bottle of poison sufficient to kill Savannah’s entire population. Another who makes money giving tours of the mansions he squats in, complete with his antique furniture, piano, and party entourage. A bodacious drag queen named Chablis, who drafts chauffeurs off the street and crashes debutante balls. A voodoo queen who has “thrown graveyard dirt on some of the best homes in Savannah.” A man who shoots the hood ornaments off his party guests’ cars if they’re late. A real-life Maude (although without her teenage Harold), deciding on which birthday things can go on no longer and she will die.

What there isn’t, is very much murder. To be fair, the title does say “A Savannah Story,” not “A Crime Story,“ but the book is widely billed as true crime and that’s what I was expecting. I would estimate ⅞ of the book is devoted to the personalities of several Savannahians and of Savannah itself. Perhaps ⅛ is about Danny Hansford (known hustler and “walking streak of sex”) and Jim Williams, who was tried four times for Hansford’s murder.

Still, I felt like I was living right there with humid, flower-scented breezes, mansions lining avenues of live oaks draped with Spanish moss, gracious manners, gossip like Sandburg’s cat-feet fog, flowing gin. The writing is smooth and seductive and the sense of place is extraordinary. I deducted a star for less police procedural and courtroom drama than I’d wanted, and am giving it back for my new favorite motto: “Two tears in a bucket. Motherfuck it.”

New words:

Bourse: stock market in a non-English speaking country, particularly France (in context, a clearinghouse)

Plebiscite: direct vote of all members of an electorate on an important issue

Gaff: similar to a g-string, used by drag queens to keep their junk invisible under dresses. The conversation in which I might use this word will probably be a lively one.

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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