Hannibal Free Public Library
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
September 17, 2007
About the author…
2. Do you come away from this book believing that Williams is guilty of murder? How does the evidence that surfaces during his trials reinforce or contradict the impression that Berendt conveys elsewhere in the book? How do Williams's friends view him? Is it possible to believe in Williams's guilt yet still feel sympathy for him?
3. Berendt portrays a Savannah that is full of mysterious characters. How much do we end up knowing about the people in this book?
4. John Berendt describes Savannah as inward turning, a "semitropical terrarium" and Miss Harty says "The whole of Savannah is an oasis. We are isolated." What role does geography, from the location of Joe Odom's latest apartment to Savannah's position on the Georgia coast, play in this book? Do you feel that Savannah and the South could be considered characters in Midnight?
5. Danny Hansford is only one of the many people whose violent deaths we learn about in the course of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Judging by their stories, what does Savannah (or Savannah society) deem grounds for murder? Why are so few of Jim Williams's friends disturbed by the charges against him? Given the casualness with which Savannahians greet the Hansford case, why are they so shocked by the news (p.333) that their city has been declared the murder capital of the United States?
6. It is almost immediately obvious that Jim Williams is gay and that Danny is his gigolo, but no one comments on this until the first murder trial. Williams's greatest fear seems to be that his mother will learn the truth about his sexual orientation. How do Berendt's Savannahians--both gay and straight--variously conceal, deny, or accommodate their sexuality?
7. "We don't do black-on-white in Savannah," Joe Odom tells Berendt. "A lot may have changed here in the last twenty years, but not that" [p. 54]. What role does race--and the elaborate restrictions that surround it--play in this book? How would you characterize the relations between Berendt's white and black characters?
8. The "Garden of Good and Evil" is Bonaventure cemetery, which the author visits at the book's beginning and end. What role do the dead play in Berendt's narrative? How do they influence its action and haunt the living characters?
9. Frustrated by his attorneys' failure to win an acquittal, Williams hires a conjure woman, Minerva, to work on his behalf. How successful are Minerva's efforts compared to those of more conventional specialists?
10. How do we end up feeling about the author, John Berendt, as a character in the book? What does he accomplish by making himself a character in his book--or, rather, by creating a character who happens to have his name and profession? Do you think Berendt's being a "northerner" influences the credibility of his story and his viewpoint of the South?
Was Danny Hansford responsible for
his own death? Do you come away from
this book believing that he was about
to kill Williams or that he was
merely a pawn? How did Danny fit into
Savannah's rigidly stratified
society? Why--and at whom--might he
be laughing at the book's ending?
adapted from and courtesy of Random