I first read Midnight about ten years ago, maybe more, but two recent trips to Savannah prompted a re-read. We’re all familiar (either through the book or Clint Eastwood’s film) of the story of Jim Williams, Danny Hansford, and the incomparable Lady Chablis, but with each reading (and each visit), I fall in love with this odd little city a bit more.
For the uninitiated, Berendt’s tale begins with him meeting Jim Williams, an antique dealer, to interview him for a piece in a magazine. While in Savannah, Berendt becomes intrigued with the city, falling in love with it, and eventually renting a small apartment in the historic district. He meets several of the city’s movers and shakers, and quite a few of its less prominent citizens. Fast forward a few years, and Danny Handford is dead, Jim Williams is on trial, and the entire town is abuzz.
Savannah is a strange, beautiful, wonderful place. It’s ancient by American standards, settled in 1733, and at times it gives the air that it hasn’t changed much. Berendt captures the magic of the city, painting not just each character with perfect, vivid strokes, but painting the town as well.
Lady Astor is rumored to have remarked about Savannah that the city is “like a beautiful woman with a dirty face”. I’ve always thought a little dirt kept things interesting. Berendt captures Savannah, her beauty, and her flaws with simple, lyrical perfection.
(And for those wondering, Lady Chablis is still performing once a month, and she is every bit as fierce and fabulous as she was in the film.)