EPISODE 19: MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL

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    Ho ho ho! For the holiday season, the Literary Disco team reads a book Julia got for Christmas several years ago but hadn’t yet read. “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” brings us back to discussion nonfiction and the importance of setting. Also discussed: Goodreads, a bookshelf revisit, and the special Twitter challenge!

COMMENTS

3 Responses to Episode 19: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

  • Vanya wrote on December 29, 2012 at 12:08 //

    I loved the episode! Also, the discussion of ‘Midnight’ (which I haven’t yet read, but now want to!) reminded me strongly of García Márquez’s ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ for some reason. Maybe because it was written in this pseudo-journalistic style, and has strong elements of biography and nonfiction and documentation, and the same sense of investigation of a community with its variety of people and the potency of town gossip and the rigidly followed community values. There’s also the indication that the fictionalization of the account is mostly because the author wants to add structure to real life events which are just bizarre and lack any coherency whatsoever, as a means of getting to the “truth”. Magic realism in this case works well (how everything almost inevitably seems to lead to the same conclusion), because it’s stated many times in the book that life often resembles “bad fiction” in the way that it refuses a clear-cut structure or linearity that can explain why something happens, so maybe fiction and the false arrangement of facts is the only way of making sense of tragedy, especially one that occurred despite the fact that the entire town knew it was going to happen and could, at various points, have prevented it. Also interesting is that Marquez himself has often rejected the tragedy entirely, and instead described the book as a “love story”, giving centrality to what is overtly the b-text. ‘Chronicle’ is really short, less than a hundred pages, and a great read if you guys haven’t already read it, it’s the first thing that struck me while listening to the podcast! (I really missed Klassics Korner with two ‘K’s, though!)

  • Cole wrote on December 31, 2012 at 10:16 //

    I was thoroughly engrossed in the discussion of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It’s been several years since I read the book, and you’ve motivated me to return to it. I particularly appreciated the mention of how, in response to the book and its accompanying film, associated parts of the city became tourist traps. After I finished reading it initially, I deeply wanted to visit the sites myself, but then it occurred to me that the Savannah depicted by Berendt is no longer present, largely due to the book’s success. Even if the book hadn’t been an overwhelming hit, I think I would have been disappointed had I made the trip to Savannah. I say this because, while the book is technically a piece of reportage, it has a surrealistic aura about it, an ambience that results from the quirky characters and the almost unbelievable incidents. I fear the city’s atmosphere wouldn’t live up to the preconceived notion the book imparted in me.

    The movie adaptation, sadly, is atrocious, mainly because I think it overlooks one of the most compelling elements of the central plot — that Jim Williams was tried four separate times for the same alleged crime. In the film, this fact that seems so fantastic that it stretches credibility is reduced to a single trial. On the positive side, it was interesting seeing Lady Chablis portray herself, and hers is the most captivating performance of the film.

    On a side note, I have a soft spot for the term “nonfiction novel.” Yeah, it’s archaic and contradictory in itself, but that’s what gives it its charm. I think the term was a bit of whimsy on Capote’s part, and wasn’t intended by him to be taken literally.

  • Wendy wrote on January 19, 2013 at 7:06 //

    I enjoyed this conversation a lot — can’t stop thinking about it. I didn’t like the book as much as you guys did, though, mostly because I couldn’t figure out what was true and what wasn’t. The thing that sticks with me from the podcast is the idea of “creative nonfiction.” I know Tod doesn’t like this term or “nonfiction novel,” but I think there’s a need for some kind of distinction between true nonfiction and books that are based on truth but twist it somewhat. I did some Googling myself and found out that Berendt didn’t even go to Savannah until 4 years after the murder, which means a lot of his portrayal of the events prior to the trial is either made up or based on research after the fact, which is not how he makes it out to be. I also feel pretty sure he fictionalized a lot of the dialogue, and he admits to playing around with timelines and characters.

    This leaves me with the question — how much license is an author of nonfiction allowed? Is it enough that the facts are correct, or do the dialogue and sequencing and everything have to be totally accurate? What about composite characters? At what point should books like this be categorized as Historical Fiction? Where is the line?