The cover of the 1994 book, which features the Bird Girl sculpture.
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|LC Class||F294.S2 B48 1994|
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is non-fiction work by John Berendt. The book, Berendt's first, was published in 1994. It became a New York Times Best-Seller for 216 weeks following its debut and remains the longest-standing New York Times Best-Seller.
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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is atmospherically Deep South coastal (Savannah, Georgia, Beaufort, South Carolina) and Southern Gothic in tone, depicting a wide range of eccentric personalities in and around the city of Savannah, Georgia.
The story, unsettling and real, broke down the idea of the quintessential phenomenon of a true American city—only to reveal its quirks: its man walking an invisible dog; its voice of the drag queen; a high-society man in its elite community—all that, somehow, unravels a murder mystery. Virtually seeming like a novel and reading like a tale, the non-fictional story is about the real-life events surrounding the murder.
The central narrative concerns the killing of Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute (characterized as "a good time not yet had by all" by an important Savannah socialite), by respected antiques dealer Jim Williams. This results in four murder trials, with the fourth ending in acquittal after the judge finally agreed to a change of venue to move the case away from the Savannah jury pool. The book describes Williams' version of the killing, which is that it was in "self-defense"—the result of Hansford, who is prone to fits of rage, shooting at Williams with a gun that is on display, and Williams shooting back in self-defense—and not murder, pre-meditated or otherwise, by Williams. The death occurred in Williams' home 'Mercer House'.
The book highlights many other notable Savannah residents as well, including The Lady Chablis, a local drag queen and entertainer. Chablis provides both a Greek chorus of sorts as well as a light-hearted contrast to the more serious action.
Real life events
The book's plot is based on real-life events that occurred in the 1980s and is classified as non-fiction. Because it reads like a novel (and rearranges the sequence of true events in time), it is sometimes referred to as a "non-fiction novel" or "faction", a subgenre popularized by Truman Capote and Norman Mailer.
The title alludes to the hoodoo notion of "midnight," the period between the time for good magic (11 pm to midnight) and the time for evil magic (midnight to 1 am), and "the garden of good and evil," which refers principally to the cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina, where Dr. Buzzard, the husband of Minerva, the folk-magic practitioner who figures in the story, is buried. It is over his grave that Minerva performed the incantations to ensure a more successful result in the retrial for the case of Jim Williams.
The famous Bird Girl statue, originally designed both as art and as a birdseed holder, was originally located at Savannah's historic Bonaventure Cemetery. A Savannah photographer, Jack Leigh, was commissioned to take a photograph for the cover of the book. The cover image became immediately iconic, with author John Berendt calling it "one of the strongest covers I've ever seen", and the statue became a popular stop for tourists. Owing to rising concerns about the integrity of the statue and the cemetery's privacy, Bird Girl was relocated in 1997 for display in Telfair Museums in Savannah. In late 2014, the statue was moved to a dedicated space in the Telfair Museums' Jepson Center for the Arts on West York Street, in Savannah. Both Hugh W. Mercer and Johnny Mercer are buried in Bonaventure Cemetery.
- The City of Falling Angels (2005), Berendt's second book.
- "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". New Georgia Encyclopedia.
- "Telfair Museums Jepson Center". telfair.org. TELFAIR MUSEUMS. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
- Jan Whitt (28 August 2008). Settling the borderland: other voices in literary journalism. University Press of America. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-7618-4093-0. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
- "Photos of the first edition of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". Mansion Books.
- "Booknotes interview with Berendt on Midnight". C-SPAN. August 1997.
- "Official book site". RandomHouse.com.
- "Map of Event Locations with photos". Google Maps. Retrieved 16 December 2016.