I know this is a book blog. And yet… Whenever I mention books set in Georgia, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt,
comes up. I didn’t choose to read that book while passing through Georgia because it’s not, strictly speaking, a novel — it’s based on the true story of the shooting of a male hustler by a wealthy antiques dealer and the subsequent murder trials. But I knew that a movie had been adapted from the book, so I looked it up. Turns out it has two of my favorite actors in it — John Cusack and Kevin Spacey. How can I resist? I can’t, of course, so I rented it and watched it the other night. What a great film! Right away, I’m fascinated by the atmosphere of Savannah’s rich and famous at play — the magnificent Mercer House, home of the antiques dealer character Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey) the way the journalist Berendt (John Cusack) is taken in by it all. And I’m taken in too by the colorful characters — Minerva, the “root doctor” who is inextricably connected to the characters and their stories and the drag queen, Lady Chablis, is fabulous playing herself in the movie.
The book spent an unprecedented 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction. See: The New Georgia Encyclopedia: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/midnight-garden-good-and-evil Of course, this book is now added to my must-read list.
That said, I’m so glad I saw the movie before reading the book. Everyone I’ve talked with who read the book first thought the movie was a big disappointment. I get how that can happen since I usually find books are better than the movies adapted from them. Once I’ve visualized those characters and scenes in my imagination, the actors and cameras usually fall short. But I love both books and films and appreciate the impossibility of any filmmaker flawlessly transferring book to screen. But that misses the point. A film can stand alone and sometimes even rise above a book in the hands of a brilliant director and talented actors. Okay, now I’m going off on a tangent.
Suffice to say, I think the movie got bad reviews because readers wanted it to be just like the book and so many people read that book. According to The New Georgia Encyclopedia article, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil sold more than three million copies, has been translated into twenty-three languages, and has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists to Savannah. But I haven’t read it and so for me, the movie was brilliant. All that Johnny Mercer music, the visual opulence of Savannah and its quirky characters were fascinating. I’m highly recommending it.
But it’s time to leave Georgia for my next stop — Connecticut. I have been to Connecticut. My brother lives in Guilford, but I have only been there once — because the way in which my family is unhappy is that my brother no longer speaks to me. But that’s another story.