Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil-John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil-John Berendt

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 639
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 1994
Non fiction, true crime

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. 

Highly entertaining, it begins as a series of portraits of very interesting people and it is at that point that Berendt's writing shines. As you know, it's true crime (and I purposely kept myself in the dark) so you know one of these people will go on trial for murder and another will die. For the first half, I was content to simply get to know Savannah but at some points I got tired of Berendt putting himself in the story. There began to be a bit 'too pat'-he doesn't really succeed in making you understand why you're supposed to like the characters because in a way he's too concerned with making you like him. Anyhow, so the murder takes place and then the supernatural comes in and I just wasn't so sure how the reader was supposed to take it. There was a point, it seemed, to adding it in but Berendt didn't really help you to it. To be honest, I can't really recall much of the details of the trials because compared to the first half, the final half seems rushed and overshadowed.

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