Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 27: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

My parents bought me a copy of this book on a trip to Savannah because I’m pretty sure they won’t let you out of the city without purchasing a copy. I had read it back in high school, but really couldn’t recall anything about it, so I stuck it on the shelf. I decided on taking another gander at it after I saw that they were reading it on my favorite podcast Literary Disco. (Rider Stong a la Shawn Hunter and two friends talk about books and give each other a hard time. It. Is. Bliss. I like to pretend that Shawn finally overcame his brooding wrong-side-of-the-tracks upbringing and made something of himself. But I digress.)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is considered in some circles to be a non-fiction novel. That may seem a little oxymoronic, but it reads as if it is fiction. Embarrassing confession: I honestly didn’t realize it was non-fiction until I looked at the back of the book after reading the whole dang thing! The way that the story is woven together, along with the riveting details and unbelievable characters, just seem too fantastic to be true. As a southerner I guess I should have known better but Berendt had me along for the ride.

John Berendt is a character in his own tale, a New Yorker who comes to the south for a respite in the late 70s, and is pulled in to this jewel of the south. Though at first an observer and an outsider, he is able to move through the different social circles with ease and relates the history of the city, and its current inhabitants, with colorful detail. Though he has admitted that some characters are amalgamations of a few real life folks, a brief googling will confirm that some of the most shocking and bizarre characters existed just as described. For example, Lady Chablis, a drag queen who claims Berendt as her driver, not only is real, but even played herself in the film adaptation. It is a case of life imitating art, imitating life. Or something.

If all this wasn’t enough, one of the main and most compelling characters is pulled into a murder trial, which has rippling effects for the entire city and its populace. Jim Williams is a nouveau rich antiques dealer, and is famous for throwing an annual Christmas party as sort of a modern day Gatsby. Berendt is obviously not an impartial witness, but he does his best to relate the facts as they unfold so that the reader really is left with having to draw their own conclusions.

I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, but it was fun and manages to revere the south without lampooning it, which I really appreciate. If you like small town gossip and want to know what the south can be like, I recommend this read.

Mrs Smith Reads Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, #CBR5, Review #18



I really should have written this review as soon as I finished the book, which was about two weeks ago. I laughed, out loud, several times; mostly in bed, at night, just as my husband was falling asleep. I did read one passage to him, and he laughed too. He remarked that Jenny Lawson sounds exactly like the type of writer who could make me laugh out loud, in bed, at night, and wake up my husband. She is.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened is a pretty funny and mostly true story of Jenny Lawson’s completely normal and uneventful childhood. Almost none of her childhood was normal and her agent and editor must have thought it was pretty eventful too, since—well, they published her book. Lots of people have read it, and almost everybody loves it. It is quite funny, which I already stated above.

Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) is pretty inspirational to me. I know most days when I’m feeling really miserable about how out of control my life is, I remember that lots of some people with challenging and unfortunate life experiences go on to write inspiring and very well received books about how they navigated adversity with pluck and a sense of humor. And then I feel better.