Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
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 a non-fiction work by John Berendt. Published in 1994, the book was Berendt's first, and became a The New York Times bestseller for 216 weeks following its debut and still, to this day, the longest-standing best-seller of the Times.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is atmospherically deep-south and Southern Gothic in tone, depicting a wide range of eccentric personalities (unique, yet characteristic of the region) in and around the city of Savannah, Georgia.
The action that serves as a catalyst in the book is the killing of Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute (characterized as "a good time not yet had by all") by respected antiques dealer Jim Williams. This results in four murder trials, with the final one ending in acquittal after the judge finally agreed to move the case away from the Savannah jury pool. The book characterizes the killing as "self-defense"; the result of a lovers' quarrel between Hansford and Williams; and not murder, pre-meditated or otherwise by Williams. The death occurred in Williams' home, which was originally built by an ancestor of songwriter and Savannah native Johnny Mercer, West Point graduate and US Army and CSA Colonel Hugh Mercer (whose grandfather was Hugh Mercer of Pennsylvania, hero of the Battle of Trenton and adjutant to General George Washington of the Continental Army).
The book also highlights many other notable Savannah residents, most notably The Lady Chablis, a transsexual woman and 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. (Booksellers generally feature the title in the "true crime" subsection.) It is among the most popular non-fiction releases of all time.
The title alludes to the hoodoo notion of "midnight", the period between the time for good magic and the time for evil magic, and "the garden of good and evil," which refers principally to Bonaventure Cemetery.
The famous Bird Girl statue, originally designed both as art and as a birdseed holder, was originally located at Bonaventure. A Savannah photographer, Jack Leigh, was commissioned to take a photograph for the cover of the book, and in so doing he created his now famous photograph of the statue. The Bird Girl was relocated in 1997 for display in the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah.
- The City of Falling Angels is John Berendt's second book.
- New Georgia Encyclopedia: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
- 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.