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It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a sublime and seductive reading experience. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city has become a modern classic.
A title wave of beach paperbacks
Whether you're contemplating a trip to an exotic beach, or planning to spend the warm weather months in the back yard, you'll want to bring along that most necessary of seasonal accouterments. No, not sunscreen. We're talking summer reading. Especially the easy-to-tote paperback variety.
A hardcover sensation, John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, literally spent years on bestseller lists. This month the 1994 title at last debuts in soft cover. Never mind that Clint Eastwood's movie version has come and gone. If you haven't read this account of life and death - and murder - Savannah-style, replete with its parade of beguiling eccentrics, you're in for a mint-julep-flavored treat.
Southern accents and sensibilities also abound in Rebecca Wells's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (HarperCollins, $14, 0060928336). Flashing back and forth from the 1990s to the 1960s, the book explores Siddalee's efforts to understand her seemingly incomprehensible mother, the Louisiana magnolia Viviane, and her three chums. Booted out of a Shirley Temple lookalike contest when they were just six, the girls spent their college years blazing a bourbon-splattered trail, buffered by the motto (from a Billie Holiday tune), "smoke, drink, don't think." As much a paean to sisterhood as it is a mother-daughter tale, Ya-Ya is a kind of follow-up to Wells's much darker first novel, Little Altars Everywhere, (HarperCollins, $13, 0060976845), and is being developed for a movie by Bette Midler's production company.
Yet another "girly" story is recounted in Bridget Jones's Diary (Penguin, $12.95, 014028009X). Helen Fielding's book - which originated as a column in a London newspaper - is the first-person odyssey of the thirtysomething Bridget, who is obsessed with such '90s issues as learning to program her VCR, finding Mr. Right, and, of course, weight loss (in one year she manages to lose 72 pounds . . . and to gain 74). The producers of the quirky Four Weddings and a Funeral plan a movie version of the quirky Bridget.
Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel, by first-time novelist Arthur S. Golden, may also be headed for the screen - with Steven Spielberg's involvement. For now, enjoy it in print (Vintage, $14, 0679781587), as the geisha Sayuri details her metamorphosis from peasant child - she was nine when her widowed father sold her to a geisha house - to her prewar rise as a leading geisha and on to her role as mistress to a power-broker. Golden spent nine years researching and writing this intricately detailed saga, which takes us on a memorable, eye-opening journey.
And last but not least, we mustn't forget Margaret Mitchell's monumental (and perennially best-selling) classic, Gone with the Wind (Warner Books, $7.99, 0446365386).
Hollywood journalist Pat H. Broeske is also a biographer who has chronicled the lives of Howard Hughes and Elvis Presley.