I just finished Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil on the train last night. I really liked this book and will definitely be looking up some other books by John Berendt. I know I’m a bit late checking in on this book, as it was published fourteen years ago and spent a record four years on the New York Times Bestseller List, but at any rate, here are my thoughts.
Berendt’s approach to characters reminded me a lot of Tom Wolfe’s Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby: small and separate vignettes that add up to a great portrait of an area, though lacking the New Journalism feel.
I am glad that Berendt chose to divide Midnight into two books, as the sections each have their own distinct feel, and it would have been distracting had they not been acknowledged as being different. I actually enjoyed the first half, the scenes of life in Savannah, Georgia, more than I did the second, dealing with a murder and a dramatic trial. Berendt wrote something that only an outsider to the community of Savannah could. Throughout the book he remains, seemingly, completely impartial, and it still surprises me how accepted he was into the community.
It took years for Berendt to gather all the information for his book, and I have to think that when the murder occurred, he had to have felt somewhat elated at the prospect of such a great story being dropped in his lap. Maybe he didn’t; I certainly would have. At least I can admit it. The ending did feel a bit rushed, but after spending years and years watching and writing, I’m sure it was a relief just to have the process come to a close.
If you like non-fiction novels, you really should check this one out. It was one of those times when you put a book down and wish there were another three hundred pages.