Sunday, May 10, 2009

"The Book": Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, 'What's your business?' In Macon they ask, 'Where do you go to church?' In Augusta they ask you your grandmother's maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is, 'What would you like to drink?'" - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The Mercer-Williams House, the location of the murder in the book and movie.

A high-society murder. A drag queen. A New York journalist in the South. A gay millionaire/historic preservationist. Antiques. Any one of these in a story would make me want to read it. Put of all of these and more into one story and you’ve got Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. First, it was a nonfiction novel by John Berendt, but some say it’s somewhat embellished. Well, as Emily Dickinson said, “tell the truth, but tell it slant.” It’s about a murder in 1981 in Savannah, Georgia. The book version spent 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. A movie was later produced starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack.

I read the novel about a year ago and watched the movie recently in preparation for a trip to Savannah with my husband.

While in Savannah, we took a walking tour with a native Savannian who had been showing tourists around for 37 years. At the end of the tour, he was asked why he hadn’t mentioned anything about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He cleared his throat and diverted his eyes much like someone might who was just asked how much he paid for his vacation home or what kind of cosmetic surgery she’d just had done.

He said the movie was horrible and the book not much better. I hope my face did not reveal that I liked both. He recommended a show that A&E produced called Midnight in Savannah because it was a better representation of the real story. I’m planning to watch it. Next time I’m in Savannah I won’t mention to any of its residents that I know anything about “The Book.” I don’t want to seem impolite or unappreciative in the Hostess City of the South.

Forsyth Park, which appears in several scenes in the book and movie.

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