Excerpt from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

A Savannah Story

by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 1994, 386 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 1999, 255 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The party soon became a permanent fixture on Savannah's social calendar. Williams always scheduled it to occur at the climax of the winter season - the night before the Cotillion's debutante ball. That Friday night became known as the night of Jim Williams' Christmas party. It was the Party of the Year, and this was no small accomplishment for Williams. "You have to understand," a sixth-generation Savannahian declared, "Savannah takes its parties very seriously. This is a town where gentlemen own their own white tie and tails. We don't rent them. So it's quite a tribute to Jim that he has been able to make so prominent a place for himself on the social scene, in spite of not being a native Savannahian and being a bachelor."

The food at Williams' parties was always provided by Savannah's most sought-after cateress, Lucille Wright. Mrs. Wright was a light-skinned black woman whose services were so well regarded that Savannah's leading hostesses had been known to change the date of a party if she was not available. Mrs. Wright's touch was easy to spot. Guests would nibble on a cheese straw or eat a marinated shrimp or take a bite of a tomato finger sandwich and smile knowingly. "Lucille . . . !" they would say, and nothing more needed to be said. (Lucille Wright's tomato sandwiches were never soggy. She patted the tomato slices with paper towels first. That was just one of her many secrets.) Her clients held her in high esteem. "She's a real lady," they often said, and you could tell from the way they said it that they considered that high praise for a black woman. Mrs. Wright admired her patrons in return, although she did confide that Savannah's hostesses, even the rich ones, tended to come to her and say, "Now, Lucille, I want a nice party, but I don't want to spend too much money." Jim Williams was not like that. "He likes things done in the grand style," Mrs. Wright said, "and he's very liberal with his money. Very. Very. He always tells me, 'Lucille, I'm having two hundred people and I want low-country food and plenty of it. I don't want to run out. Get what you need. I don't care what it costs.'"

Jim Williams' Christmas party was, in the words of the Georgia Gazette, the party that Savannah socialites "lived for." Or lived without, for Williams enjoyed changing his guest list from year to year. He wrote names on file cards and arranged them in two stacks: an In stack and an Out stack. He shunted the cards from one stack to the other and made no secret of it. If a person had displeased him in any way during the year, that person would do penance come Christmas. "My Out stack," he once told the Gazette, "is an inch thick."

* * *

An early-evening mist had turned the view of Monterey Square into a soft-focus stage set with pink azaleas billowing beneath a tattered valance of live oaks and Spanish moss. The pale marble pedestal of the Pulaski monument glowed hazily in the background. A copy of the book At Home in Savannah--Great Interiors lay on Williams' coffee table. I had seen the same book on several other coffee tables in Savannah, but here the effect was surreal: The cover photograph was of this very room.

For the better part of an hour, Williams had taken me on a tour of Mercer House and his antiques shop, which was quartered in the carriage house. In the ballroom, he played the pipe organ, first a piece by Bach, then "I Got Rhythm." Finally, to demonstrate the organ's deafening power, he played a passage from Cesar Franck's "Piece Heroique." "When my neighbors let their dogs howl all night," said Williams, "this is what they get in return." In the dining room, he showed me his royal treasures: Queen Alexandra's silverware, the Duchess of Richmond's porcelain, and a silver service for sixty that had belonged to a Russian grand duke. The coat of arms from the door of Napoleon's coronation carriage hung on the wall in the study. Here and there around the house lay Faberge objects--cigarette cases, ornaments, jewel boxes - the trappings of aristocracy, nobility, royalty. As we moved from room to room, tiny red lights flickered in electronic recognition of our presence.

Excerpted from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Copyright© 1994 by John Berendt. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Lincoln in the Bardo
    Lincoln in the Bardo
    by George Saunders
    George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo is a philosophy discourse brilliantly disguised as a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Tender
    by Belinda McKeon
    Most of us have heard the slightly trite saying: "If you love something, set it free." But one can ...
  • Book Jacket
    All Tomorrow's Parties
    by Rob Spillman
    In this absorbing memoir, co-founder of Tin House magazine, Rob Spillman, recalls his artistic ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin

"A hit…The research is impeccable, the attention to detail, perfect." - The Sunday Mirror (UK)

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    A Piece of the World
    by Christina Baker Kline

    A stunning novel of friendship, passion, and art from the #1 bestselling author of Orphan Train.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Fifth Petal
    by Brunonia Barry

    Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of The Lace Reader with this spellbinding new thriller.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Finishing second in the Olympics gets you silver. Finishing second in politics gets you oblivion.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Your F C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.