The Book of Sawce, Chapter 19 – A Book Based on a True Story

19) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

That voodoo that you do.

Even moreso than the last challenge on this reading list I’m so totally for real finishing this year (spoiler alert: that was a lie), I was really dreading this entry.  It might actually be the main one I didn’t want to do.  Since I started down the perilous path of a bookworm many years ago, I’ve mostly hated nonfiction.  A vast majority I was assigned to read in elementary, middle, high school, and even college, I found to be bland, melodramatic, dry try-hard stories that just didn’t do anything for me.  That’s why it was especially difficult to pick a book this time around.  I did a lot of research trying to find one that would suit my tastes, and I eventually wound up buying this one on a whim.  Yep.  Let’s mosey on down to Savannah, Georgia, with John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

John Cusack (he plays the narrator in the movie adaptation, so that’s what I’m calling him) is a reporter from New York who finds himself in Savannah during a trip with his friends.  The city draws him in as it has so many others.  John decides to get an apartment there and alternate between his two homes.  Soon enough, though, he begins to spend more and more time in the South.  The fascinating people he meets keep him too entertained and interested:  The eternally carefree party-man Joe Odom, the in-your-face drag queen Lady Chablis, and the Jonathan Crane-ish (Scarecrow shout-out!) Luther Driggers are but a small fraction of these characters.  One such resident–important socialite and John’s friend–Jim Williams, surprises the town when he shoots and kills the young, violent prostitute Danny Hansford.  How does this effect such a strange cast and setting?  Not too terribly much, actually.

When asked in the future if I have a favorite nonfiction book (because I’ll totes be asked that some day), I can point to this one.  Yes, I like this book.  In fact, I really like this book.  The info on the cover flap told me this book read like a novel and was filled with a number of eccentric characters.  That’s what got me interested.  Dealing with a sort of murder mystery and knowing Kevin Spacey stars in the film adaptation is what ensured I’d read this one.  Thankfully that all came together for a great read.  I do have one major problem with this novel, though.

See, the synopsis on the cover and the Wikipedia page tout the trial of Jim Williams as the central narrative of the book.  And yes, it is indeed the main plot, but it doesn’t kick in until almost halfway through.  The first half feels like a collection of short stories with the connecting theme of an unnamed narrator meeting weird people in Savannah, GA.  That bugged me.  I understand you have to pull in an audience, and I guess there’s no lie when saying the trial is the plot, but it’s evident that’s not what the book is supposed to be about.  This book is about Savannah.  What happens to Williams adds conflict, but it was always about this town in the South that refused to change.  I don’t know if I would’ve preferred knowing that outright, but it irked me when I realized how long it took to get to the alleged point.  If it weren’t for the cast to keep me turning those pages, I probably would’ve hated this book.

I don’t know if my complaint is something generally found in the “faction” genre, but at least it’s my only problem.  I love love love the cast.  They alone make this book worth reading.  Savannah ain’t too bad either.

That’ll wrap up this one, ladies and gents.  Next up is a book at the bottom of my to-read list.  That…is a massive list with an impressive bottom.  Might take me a while to find one.

What will it be?  Stay tuned to find out.

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