Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt

Finished reading this a couple of days ago (and watched the movie afterward too) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I picked it up because I personally struggle with writing physical description of people and places and heard MitGoGaE was a good example of an illustrative book that isn’t boring.

I don’t like reading long descriptions. My eyes glaze over at that part of Lord of the Rings where Tolkien goes on for pages and pages about Lothlorian. For some reason I can’t explain, I love reading about the food, but that’s another matter altogether. MitGoGaE, on the other hand, was engaging from beginning to end and gave me a clear picture of Savanna and the people in it.

Some might say the ‘story’ starts slow; at times it felt like the author was saying ‘well hell, this is interesting stuff, and as long as you’re interested, and I’m interested, let’s just talk about it until we’re not.’ I didn’t mind that the main plot didn’t really seem to get going until halfway through the book. It’s broken up into two parts, book one and book two, and book one is almost entirely just talking about living in Savannah and how the author ended up getting mixed up with all these crazy people. Book two, on the other hand, deals with the murder mystery true crime element of the story.

It was, at times, as though I were being tricked into reading description; Berendt has this wonderful way of illustrating things through little stories. It’s ten times more interesting to read about a man who, upon dying, wanted to make his tombstone a bench in the graveyard so people could watch the ships passing than it is to read about walking into a graveyard and looking around and stuff. He gives wonderful context to everything around him and tells you why the things he sees and the people he meets are interesting.

As far as characterization goes…the book is full of lunatics. It’s irresistibly charming and weird and funny without being ‘goofy’ or ‘zany’; I think it would have been so easy to just make the people look ridiculous, but Berendt pulls it off as something much more classy. I felt some of that class was lost in the movie; for example, there are reasons that one man walks around with flies on little string leashes tied to his buttons, and a man walks down the street pretending to walk a dog. I felt like they made those two characters into dotty freak shows in the movie…and yeah, they were maybe a few beans short, but the book gives those guys some context so that at least you can see why they do the things they do.

I’m torn on how I feel about the point of view character’s development. It’s written in first person and at times there is the feeling that he’s more video camera than person, but on the other hand his personality comes through very subtly and in interesting little ways. The Lady Chablis, one of many interesting friends our narrator meets, is wonderful for bringing him out of his shell a bit. I think the narrator is at times very subdued and she brings out his range a little bit. Those two have a confrontation over whether or not the narrator will take her to a debutante ball, and it’s one of the few times he actually expresses an opinion and stands up for himself. He can come off as a door mat at times, being steered about by the lunatics, and it was nice to see that side of him.

*looks up* I rambled a lot. Check out the book though; the movie really isn’t a substitute, though it also certainly has its merits. And of course if you've already read it, discuss

ROzbeans 17 years ago
I read this book not too long after it came out. It had like a 5 month waiting list at the library and I put myself on it...and waited...and waited. It was worth it though.

The Lady Chablis, if I remember correctly, was played in the movie by the actual Lady Chablis. I loved this character in the book and in the movie. You make me want to reread the book because honestly I can't remember why the guy had the flies tied up or the invisible dog. Gonna have to grab the paperback now.

I remember being slightly disappointed with the movie, but that's because i have this innate hate for movies when I've read the book first. =x
David Bowles 17 years ago
I've never read this, but I will check it out.