In which I remember why I love the South and make sweet potato biscuits
Author: John Berendt
What it’s about: A New York writer comes to Savannah on holiday and is seduced by the Southern charm and surprising characters he meets. He befriends a piano-playing charlatan, a drag queen, a witch doctor, an inventor threatening to poison the town’s water supply, and a murderer. Oh, and did I mention this is non-fiction? The focus of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a murder trial, but it’s really only a backdrop for extended character profiles of some of the most eccentric yet real characters I’ve ever encountered. Savannah is not too far away from my home town (which is referenced several times in the book), so I found myself smiling with familiarity and nodding when the Florida-Georgia game was called a national holiday, although I object to being referred to as the “Florida barbarians.” For those not from the South, I promise you that this really is an accurate portrayal of the lunatics (a term I use lovingly) that you’ll find down there. Warm, friendly, drunk, and crazy, the characters in this book are the real stars, along with the city itself. You really get lost in the fairy tale quality of Savannah.
Book v. Film: So, by the way, I’m in a book club (hi guys!). This was our pick for February and we decided to compare the movie and book at a pot luck dinner. This was really just an excuse for us to drink lots of wine and eat delicious food. Here’s our menu, in case you’d like to replicate our Southern-influenced evening: vegetable lasagna, cheese grits, sweet potato biscuits, salad, blueberry pie, and three bottles of $3 Trader Joe’s wine. Our thoughts on the movie? Well, like most book-to-film adaptations, we were disappointed. The main problem was that the movie was just … boring!
The charm of the book was completely lost in the film version. The appeal of the book is in the characters and in the picture of Savannah itself. But the film concentrates almost exclusively on the court case, leaving out the character idiosyncracies that give the book life and the most important element of the story – Savannah! At least half the film is set in the courthouse, keeping the audience away from the beautiful streets and homes of Savannah. The most successful character in the film was The Lady Chablis, who was played by herself. John Cusack just looked confused or embarrassed the whole time (full disclosure: I loathe John Cusack in anything) and even Kevin Spacey was a little too withdrawn, though the young Jude Law was a treat for the eyes, even if he was only in about five minutes of the film. In short (or in long rather), don’t judge the book by the film! Fellow book club members, feel free to elaborate!
Would I recommend? The book? Yes. The movie? No. If you’re from the South, this is truly a must-read and if you’re not but would like to understand it a bit better, this book is a crash course in Southern living, Savannah-style.