Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
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.
Book Title: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Author: John Berendt
Amazon rating: 4.3
Reviewer: Nancy Miller
One thing I’ve learned about bestselling books, they may sell well, be made into a movie, and have everyone trying to top each other on their acclaim, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy reading it. Sometimes I think a book just gets the right exposure and becomes the ‘it’ sensation of the moment. But then, who am I? I’m sure there are much brighter people who determine these things.
My first question about the book was is it a novel or nonfiction? It is about a nonfiction event but the characters are quite fictionalized. The writing is eloquent in its description of Savannah and its inhabitants but the whole first half of the book is nothing but character vignettes. They tie together tentatively with some crossover but so much time is given to them when, ultimately, they aren’t really necessary. They just add color to a story that doesn’t start until half way through the book.
I also found his representation of the people in Savannah to be unnecessarily ‘Northern’. While he raves about the hospitality, he chooses to pick an assortment of petty, overblown, cartoonish, and criminal characters to represent the good people of Savannah. As one from the South, I feel it reinforces negative stereotypes that we are gullible, careless, and respond with emotion instead of logic.
I kept reading. The writing is good but just be prepared for the endless waiting for the story to start. You know there is a murder and who is accused of doing it. You hope that some of these characters will tie into the murder somehow. Most don’t. If each vignette had not been interesting unto itself, I would have stopped reading early on.
So I give him kudos for character development, even if he doesn’t end up using them to their full capacity. He gets my vote for having done his research both on the crime and the locale. The man can describe the inside of a mansion so you know where to hang up your coat.
But I’m still left to wonder, now that I have finished the book, why I can’t tell you the purpose for most of it.
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