26 May 2008

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah Story, is a "nonfiction novel" which tells of the transplanted author's 8 years in society Savannah through vignettes of the people he met and his experiences with them, as well as events that led up to Savannah's big scandal--the trial of one of society's own.

John Berendt has a lovely writing style, relaxed and yet detailed, which caught my interest from the first page. He kept my attention with his stories, even while I felt guilty for reading them--feeling as if I were reading a "kiss and tell" book. What did the people involved think, I couldn't help but wonder, about having their private conversations plastered about in print. Conversations that they can't be blamed for assuming would be private.

As that seed of discontent began to grow, I began to wonder about Berendt's creditability as he recounted conversations in unbelievable detail. Did he have a notebook and pencil with him at all times, scribbling during all casual conversations in hope that it might prove useful in 10 years or so, just in case he decided to write a book?

Checking on his dates, I found in a few places, other people wondering about the same thing, going so far as to state that he wasn't even in Savannah for the pre-trial information (not arriving until after the first trial). I was unable to verify or debunk this; all I could find anywhere, (Berendt interviews included) isn't telling exact dates, just that he spent 8 years there during the 1980's. The trial in question was for a crime that happened in 1981. If he wasn't there, Berendt has deliberately misled his readers by writing as if he was privy to inside information given to him at that time.

Not being able to certify his truthfulness, I approached the rest of the book as a novel, not as nonfiction. Unfair to Berendt? Possibly, but then again, possilby not. I'd be interested in what other readers have to say about it.

Now, given all that, how to rate it? As a nonfiction writer, I don't trust him, so I can't give him a good rating (though the travelogue portion did make me quite interested in Savannah and the bit of history made me want to read more about the city as well). As a novel, it was highly entertaining, with some great prose. A conundrum that has resulted in no star rating being applied at all.

This was read for both the Southern Reading Challenge and the NonFiction Challenge.



Blogger ____Maggie said...

So, possibly you could be the little statue on the cover. Head tilted to the side, weighing your options.

I never questioned his "believe ability" during the reading, but I also read it early in my librarian career. That means I was just in it for the fun. I'm no help to your serious question, am I?!?

It was said Truman Capote could remember every conversation, word-for-word, he had from birth. Maybe, Berendt was channeling Capote's ability? ;D

12:12 AM  

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