Southern Gothic Intrigue – Review of ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Murder, sex, oddball characters, and a skillfully crafted narrative gives Midnight all it needs to make an engaging work of creative non-fiction comparable to Mitchell’s Joe Gould’s Secret and Capote’s In Cold Blood. Living in Savannah on and off over several years, Berendt narrates the book as both outsider-observer and friend and confidant of the people he is portraying. At the centre of the story is a murder and courtroom spectacle, but Berendt doesn’t rely on this to carry the book, and steers clear of sensationalism.

Berendt portrays the locals as bound up irrevocably with Savannah; the beauty, sensuality and complex history of the town seeps into their daily lives, played out through purposeful eccentricity, well-mannered rebellion, and irreverent tradition. “Ooooo, child!” croons the Lady Chablis, finding the chance to undermine the respectable veneer of a debutante ball, “I won’t cuss or dance dirty or shake my butt,” she promises, before proceeding, in a delightfully comic episode, to initiate the simultaneously benign and loaded mischief of an archetypal Trickster.

Covering themes such as class, race, and sexuality with a light touch, Midnight is an atmospheric and astute story, and a classic work of creative non-fiction I’m sure I’ll return to again and again.

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