I agreed to move to the South because of the book I'm about to propagandize, so I can't pretend to be anything but enamored.
And with that for an introduction, I intend to exert every ounce of peer pressure I can to insist that you immediately read this week's "Here's Bookin' At You, Kid" recommendation... "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story."
LOOK AT THIS FOXY COVER, Y'ALL!
IT'S IN A BLOODY CEMETERY!!!
I'm a tapophile, which is just a fancy way of saying I adore graveyards. Chris and I constantly seek historical cemeteries, and our vacations aren't complete until we walk through the area's tombs, reading epitaphs and admiring period headstones.
If you find this creepy, then maybe this book isn't for you, and maybe you aren't for me. Because this book is mega macabre. And it's absolutely delicious because it is so sinister and unnatural.
No. There's not necrophilia, but there is one killer plot (which is a hysterical pun, fyi).
The story is basically this: A New York journalist travels to Savannah to write a fluff piece about some rich guy's legendary Christmas party. While the reporter is there, the wealthy dude shoots and kills his lover, a much younger man known throughout the historical town as "a walking streak of sex." The journalist sticks around to report on the resulting four (!!) murder trials. Shenanigans and hijinks ensue.
The book is perhaps most notable for its plethora of preposterous protagonists. You meet a man who considers poisoning the whole town, a voodoo priestess, a man who pretends to walk a dead dog, a homosexual hustler, a trans drag queen, a charming squatter with bad checks floating all over town, and a genteel antiques dealer who hangs Nazi flags from his beloved mansion just to spite the studio executives who didn't ask permission to film his house for their Civil War movie.
If your interest is in any way piqued now, then prepare to have your mind blown because it's. all. true.
This is a memoir, not a work of imagination. All this shit did transpire, and all these people did assist in all sorts of dastardly deeds.
If this sounds like a crowded book, that's because it is. It's complex and detailed and all over the place. But it's absolutely ace. If you don't believe me, then believe all those literary snobs who bestowed countless accolades upon the author and/or book. This memoir was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It set a record for longest time on the New York Times Bestseller List, lingering around for 216 goddamned weeks. And, in the raddest compliment ever, critics raved that it was the best true crime book since Capote's "In Cold Blood."
Perhaps nothing shows how massive this book is than the fact that Savannah residents just call it "The Book," as it was that damn instrumental in blowing up the town's tourism trade.
The New York Times saw this coming when it wrote its original review, saying that it was the first true crime book "that makes the reader want to ... book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime."
Well, the publication wasn't wrong. If Savannah had a legit conscious, it'd give that Berendt guy a commission.
I know I've dropped a few thousand bucks there myself, as I've visited Savannah several times since we moved South, and I traveled there specifically because of the shimmery way Berendt portrayed the community. The book is a naughty love letter to the South's Hostess City. When you read Berendt's scrumptious prose, you can hear the Spanish moss rustle, feel the humidity settle on the back of your neck, taste the salty sea air, and sense the spirits restlessly rustling about the city's famous squares.
I've toured the house where the murder took place. I've stood in the room where the rich guy blasted away his younger lover. I've eaten a picnic lunch in the square where the characters convene. I've strolled through the cemetery where the voodoo went down. I've posed with the iconic bird girl statue on the book's cover. I've watched the drag queen's show, and I got her to autograph my copy of the book.
See? This is the Lady Chalbis signing my book:
And this is her signature in my book:
I'm not even kidding when I say that if I could, I would take my copy of this book behind the school and get it pregnant. It easily stands as one of my top 10 most valued possessions. If my apartment caught fire and I had to choose between rescuing this book or Chris, I'd seriously consider scooping up the paperback. Husbands can be replaced (Hear that, Mrs. Josh Duggar?!?). Singularly special books autographed by drag queens cannot.
I know that this review is getting chunky, but I swear it's only because I adore this book so damn much. I can't stop thinking of superlatives to describe it: informative, peculiar, colorful, Gothic, grim, vivid, captivating, absolutely un-put-downable. I lost my heart to this book, and I lost it hard.
Okay. I've rambled my best about why you should read this Southern classic, but I know some of y'all are just lazy gits who I couldn't coax into reading a book even if I promised you coupons to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. So, this is my concession: There's a movie. And it's good. Not just pretty-good-for-a-book-to-movie-adaptation. It's legit good.
It stars two of my favorite actors of all time: Kevin Spacey as the wealthy murderer Jim Williams, and John Cusack as reporter/author John Berendt.
Look at these dapper bastards:
It doesn't hurt that a young Jude Law plays the scrumptious hustler who bites the bullet. Oh, and it's directed by that up-and-comer, Clint Eastwood.
But my FAVORITE part of the movie is that the drag queen Lady Chablis is played by... HERSELF. That's how spectacularly divine she is; nobody could do her justice, so executives cast her to portray herself. And even though she appears along such Hollywood heavyweights as Law, Cusack, and Spacey, this bitch holds her own. In fact, I'd argue that she almost overshadows them.
Seriously, LOOK at this diva:
She knows what fabulous Southern charm is, and she also knows that any starlet worth her salt has a catch phrase, and I'm particularly fond of hers:
Alright. That's it. I'm done.
Wait. I lied. Let me try one more pitch, okay? If you're a Southerner or if you're a Yankee who wants a glimpse of that old time glory, then you read three books: "Gone With the Wind," "To Kill a Mockingbird," and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
Sure, they're all good (Pulitzer-worthy, even), but only one involves peeling back the genteel facade so we can peek in with prurient pleasure on the pearl-clutching scandals of Southern aristocracy.
And with that, I really am finished trying to persuade y'all. Go consume this ambrosial book, then delight in the movie. The pace in both can seem a bit slow, but that's the South, honey. It's meant to be savored.
And thus completes my fifth issue of Here's Bookin' At You, Kid: A Bi-weekly Bibliophile Bonanza!
Yesterday was Caturday!!!
Khaleesi would die if her fate rested on a game of hide-and-seek.
True story: Life would be super swell if we all embraced our OMG side instead of living a Facebook-friendly existence. So, let it out. How many drag queens have you met? What's your favorite true crime book? Better yet, if you could commit the perfect true crime, what would it be? Oooo! Yeah! I want to hear about that! Right now, I think I'd kill Donald Trump's toupee. Feel free to disclose details. You're safe here.