December 12, 1997 in Seven

Berendt Book Captured Quirkiness Of Savannah

Nichele Hoskins Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 

There ARE normal people in Savannah. Honest.

Most of us don’t walk imaginary dogs, plot to poison the water supply, crash debutante parties or hire voodoo priestesses to dodge murder raps.

The characters in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the bestselling work by John Berendt that Clint Eastwood just made into a movie, are eccentric. That’s OK. Show me a Southern city that shuns its own color and quirks and I’ll show you … Atlanta.

I can say this because I lived in Savannah for eight years. “The Book,” as people back home refer to it, is a hilariously accurate portrait of the city and the South, and only an outsider could have written it. “The Movie” is a watered-down but palatable version of the book.

Both “Midnights” tell the true story of Jim Williams, a successful Savannah dealer of antiques and real estate who shot his young employee and lover, Danny Hansford. Berendt, a New York magazine editor, spent several years in Savannah working on the book.

Hansford was shot in Williams’ home, a stately landmark called Mercer House. Some of his neighbors were mighty upset that he was inconsiderate enough to shoot someone in their neighborhood.

In Savannah, geography is important. I lived WAY south of Gaston, closer to Interstate 95 than the Savannah River, upon which the city was built in 1733. My parents’ house was built in 1975, in a ‘burb full of houses that look just like it.

Savannah is also a place where pretentiousness spreads like buttah on a warm day. Berendt’s interpretation of the black debutante scene captures the pretense perfectly.

I moved away from Savannah after college, headed for graduate school and then work, but I go home at least once a year. On a recent visit, I pretended to be a tourist. I had breakfast at Clary’s Cafe, mentioned in the book and the movie. Posters, signed copies of the book and postcards are for sale at the counter.

Sitting inside, eating oatmeal and dried fruit, was Floyd Adams, Savannah’s first black mayor. At first, the mayor said, folks were upset because the book aired a piece of dirty laundry. Then they got more upset because the many “Midnight” tour buses clogged traffic, he said. They were angrier still when film crews came to town with their noise, bright lights and barricades. The nearly 5 million tourists who visit each year boost the economy, the mayor said. Some have even bought winter homes.


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