My favorite genre is not true-crime, it is mystery—specifically historical mysteries. However, I read across all different genres, and I just finished Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil last night.
I have found an online source, Goodreads, where I write all my reviews (mostly to myself, to help remind me which books I’ve read, since I read too many and time flies by too fast to remember what they are, let alone what I thought of them).
Ultimately, this could save money, since I have a terrible tendency to completely forget which books I’ve read, and then I buy them again, only to find as I’m reading them that the plot sounds awfully familiar….
Here’s my review, pasted in from Goodreads. It’s a pretty unhappy review, since I expected to love this book, and didn’t, and was therefore left rather disappointed. Also, I have to say that this book was shortlisted for a Pulitzer, but the writing style didn’t seem extraordinary enough to warrant that kind of high praise. This leaves me wondering what are the criteria for Pulitzer-quality writing?
Berendt is a journalist who hasn’t mastered the art of translating reporter’s notes into flowing narrative fiction, an admittedly difficult skill, and one hard to live up to after Truman Capote created the genre of true-fictional-crime with his seminal In Cold Blood. I’ve discovered that, once again, my perceptions about what constitutes good writing, and what other people consider good writing, are very different; a fact I find rather dispiriting, actually.
Here’s my review. I’m not happy with it, largely because I’m not happy criticizing someone’s writing when they did a really excellent job, but you find it’s missing that crucial element you need, as a reader, to make it highly memorable:
The stiltedness of Berendt’s reportage-style detracts from the story he was trying to tell. I wish someone would do a rewrite and turn this into narrative fiction, because then it would have the potential to be absolutely fascinating, but the story, as it is, reads too much like a lengthy newspaper column.
Given Berendt’s background as a journalist, that isn’t surprising, but if he was able to turn as much of it into fiction as he must have, to reorder events and change character’s names to protect their innocence, (not that anyone sounds particularly innocent in Savannah, Georgia) then it ought to be possible to turn this into proper fiction.
Unfortunately, I was hoping for an unputdownable story of compelling characters and scenes, complete with a murder mystery and whodunit in a unique and unforgettable location, but what it felt like was following around behind Berendt as he took notes and tried to shape those notes into a coherent story.
So what is it that made this book so readable that it was a finalist for a Pulitzer? I get the impression that Berendt walked into a writer’s gold-mine the day he decided to get to know Savannah and its highly eccentric residents. He has an ability to recreate dialogue from some very interesting (and funny) people, and he had a ready-made plot evolve right in front of him as he got to know Jim Williams, accused of shooting his male lover/companion/sadist.
But there was so much more Berendt could have done with this wonderful material, that it leaves me disappointed. I have to say that the effect of this book was probably dissipated for me by the evil of watching the movie first. That’s one of those realities of modern living that corrupts the author’s abilities and vision, because it gives the reader the impression that the book and the movie are mirror images, when they clearly are not.
This is subject matter that obviously comes along only once in a lifetime, if you pursue it, as Berendt was wise enough to do. Yet in my imagination, much, much more could have been done with the material, and in my editor’s eye, if I’d had Berendt as a client, I would have tried to get him to write more elegant transitional statements. Too much writing today needs better editing, though, if you ask me. As part of the ‘true crime’ genre, this works, but it doesn’t dazzle, and it should.
- A City, A Murder & A Drag Queen: Savannah, GA (mikadventures.wordpress.com)
- Savannah (greatamericanthings.net)
- Lee Adler, historic preservationist, dies at 88 (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Savannah, Georgia (talesandtravelsofthetinman.wordpress.com)
- Introducing Luxury Living Savannah: Book an Upscale, Historic Home in a Refined Southern City (prweb.com)