I’m reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and yes, I know that books been out for a coon’s age – 1994 to be exact.
Normally I steer clear of “southern fiction” like the plague…or Dr. Pepper. But my friend Alana loaned it to me and basically threatened bodily harm upon me if I didn’t read the book.
The book’s been sitting on my bedside table for the past three months and I finally decided to tackle the book – not without a bit of self-loathing since I had sworn off southern lit. after that whole semester of having As I Lay Dying crammed down my throat.
It’s an understatement to say I wasn’t expecting much from the book.
And I suppose it’s not fair to say I never read books by southern authors. That’s just not true. Ever heard of Charlaine Harris? If you’ve ever seen True Blood on HBO then you’re watching an EXTREMELY loose interpretation of her – now 10 book long – series. What appeals to me about Harris’s books is how the setting still manages to be given its just desserts without it becoming this huge, oppressive thing.
If I’ve learned anything from growing up in the South it’s that while most southerners are mighty proud of where they grew up, very few put it up on a pedestal. Sure, it has some amazing stories and some of the people might be a tad bit more colorful than in other regions, but in the end, it’s still just a place.
It’s the people in that place who make it special.
Growing up in Arkansas, I never felt especially connected with the “culture”. Sure, I can fry chicken with the best of them and I do in fact have a jar of bacon grease in my fridge [ice box as my grandma calls it] but the South I came of age in isn’t like the place described in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Maybe it’s because of the setting being Savannah, GA which is known for its innate culture or maybe it’s because John Berendt is from New York and he looked at Savannah with an outsider’s prying eyes but the man managed to capture the good and bad parts of being southern without mocking it.
That’s another thing I tend to hate about southern fiction: when the South is the main character, that character tends to get mocked.
The South is like a younger brother or sister or maybe even a younger cousin. I can beat the crap out of them but the second someone says something or lays a finger on them, game over, buddy.
This most definitely is NOT a book review; I’m not even a quarter of the way through the book. I’ve just been stuck a bit dumb by how Berendt’s take on the South seems to resonate with me. It’s the place I’ve always wanted to live. A place I don’t quite recognize. But at the same time, I know the place. I know the people he wrote about – every southern town has these characters.
And back to that whole younger sibling/cousin analogy, the South might not be perfect – you just have to either live here or read this book to see that – but it’s mine and I love that.
It’s funny to me it took reading a book about the South, written by a Yankee, to make me fully realize how much I love the place
*This was originally posted on Deep South Moms but it’s closing and we were all told to grab our posts if we wanted to…so I did.*