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August 13th, 2006

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06:27 pm
I finished thru Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil today and had a wholly enjoyable reading experience, right up until the very end. It's an entertaining book, full of enjoyably colorful characters and situations and stories that make you go "that's one I'll need to share with someone!" and also a book that just happens to have a murder stuck in the middle of it. And most of it, of course, is purported to be entirely true.

I was having a fine time progressing through the novel up til the end, as I said, when the author just manages to drop in one of the more beloved Urban Legends of all time: the story of a fine dinner party gone awry when the hostess discovers her beloved cat dead on her back doorstep. Remembering that the cat had been earlier spotted nibbling a bit of the salmon mousse (or, in the case of Midnight, crab casserole) just before it had been served to her guests, the hostess immediately realizes the cat died of food poisoning, and off the entire dinner party goes to the hospital to get their stomachs pumped. Upon her return home, the hostess runs into someone else (husband, neighbor, acquaintance, what have you) who apologizes profusely -- he'd accidentally run the cat over while backing out of the driveway, y'see, and placed the cat on the doorstep without announcement so as to not spoil the dinner party.

Instant hilarity for those who like a good yarn about stomach pumps, but an out-and-out urban legend (the Snopes entry, in detailing the history of the story and its use, even points out Midnight's retelling.) The book doesn't even make good use of the story; like most of the anecdotes peppered throughout, it has no bearing on the actual plot and is included for flavor only.

Now I went into this book knowing it was a piece of genteel Gonzo journalism; the telling of a true crime with facts, names, figures, etc. quite possibly changed around or otherwise altered in the name of Artistic License to best fit the story. For one, John Berendt begins the tale by moving to Savannah with the purpose of writing a book, some book, any book, I don't know what goddamn book, and in the course of his discovering its inhabitants and all the interesting stories they possess, a murder is committed and Berendt stays around to document it. Not so in real life. He went to Savannah after the murder expressly to write about it, and concocts the story around that. Fair enough, I can live with that.

And I can live with the fact that perhaps not all of the events, anecdotes and stories in the book actually happened. They're amusing enough in their own right. But the one story that is indeed wholly and ignominiously and recognizably false, well, that's the story that jumps out at me, then turns around at the book and socks it one in the eye. I was very much enjoying John Berendt's falsehoods under the assumption that all the falsehoods were indeed his. Using someone else's falsehoods, now, that's another matter entirely.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:August 13th, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
I chose to look at that as if he'd been told that story by one of the interesting folks who talked to and just didn't know that it was an urban legend. It came out in 94 or 95, right? He didn't have snopes to debunk these things for him.
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Date:August 14th, 2006 01:13 am (UTC)
A friend of mine once used that legend as the basis for an excellent short story called "The Byzantine Riddle." Except it was blue cupcakes.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2006 02:23 am (UTC)
playing devil's advocate:

well, did he put it in as something someone told him happened? because if so, then he might have believed them. and that book came out, like, when i was in high school, was snopes even around then?

i enjoyed it quite a lto when i read it in high school adn reread it a few years ago. the movie version is okay.

he just write one about venice, they kept puttign snippets of it at the end of slate podcasts.
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Date:August 14th, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)
I can buy the "he heard it second-or-third-hand" theory because, heck, that's how urban legends become urban legends. Snopes was around in 94 as a contributor to alt.folklore.urban; I wouldn't have expected Berendt to use any online resources for reference then, or during his initial time in Savannah.

It's just odd how one little story in a cast of thousands can stick out and bonk Constant Reader on the nose.
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Date:August 14th, 2006 05:50 am (UTC)
also, i had no idea there was so much fiction to it (like him movign down afterwards)

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