Immediately following my family's recent trip to Savannah, several friends implored me read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I had a vague notion that it was Something Significant, but couldn't put my finger on exactly what, other than that it was about Savannah. Both the trolley tour guides and the carriage driver mentioned it specifically each time we passed Clary's Cafe, so with all that I immediately added it to my Goodreads list. By the way, are we friends on Goodreads? Let's do that.
So finally my ebook request came through the local public library and away I went, again, east to Savannah, Georgia. This time, though, I saw quite a different side to the city than is presented for tourists.
John Berendt (the author), as a writer from New York had visited and fallen into a deep fascination with Savannah. His connections to and within the various social circles of prestige and mysterious alliances afforded him a front-row seat to the murder trial of Savannah's history. They also created his friendships with an unimaginable string of motley characters, such as Chablis (a transgendered showgirl), Luther Diggers (who may or may not have possessed enough poison to decimate the city), and Joe Odom (a well-connected vagabond who remained clutched in the throes of high society yet never seemed to be without legal and financial troubles), lest we not forget Minerva (a voodoo priestess).
For all the wildness of life displayed by these cats, however, they are mild in comparison to the mystique of the relationship between Jim Williams (middle-aged and very wealthy antiques dealer) and Danny Hansford (volatile young man), and the eight year-long trial of Jim for Danny's murder.
I mean, you just cannot make this stuff up.
And the shock of it all is that, beyond reasonable storytelling liberties, Berendt didn't. As in this is nonfiction, people.
As a novel, the work is entirely absurd. Ridiculously batty. The reader cannot recover from one wild encounter between characters before assailed by another incredibly far-fetched scene between the craziest of the crazy. And so, in that way, it is just nonfiction brilliance. Berendt's style of transforming factual events into a narrative feel very much like Truman Capote's treatment of In Cold Blood.
Only waaaaaayyyy funnier.