In the center of this novel is a very informative and tantalizing view of Savannah, Georgia. When the author, originally from New York decided to spend time in Savannah as his experiment in bi-urban living, he ends up loving the place and staying for eight years. During his stay, he followed the multiple trials of wealthy antiques dealer Jim Arthur Williams who was accused of killing Danny Hansford, a young man of questionable character at his residence, the now famous Mercer House. As a high-profile resident of Savannah, his trials attracted everyone's attention over many years. There are a lot of unforgettable and eccentric characters in this book, but most memorable are Lady Chablis, a drag queen, and Minerva, a voodoo priestess, two women with distinct eccentric personalities that livened up the plot so much, you will have to constantly remind yourself that, yes, you are reading a true story.
'He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed moustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine -- he could see out, but you couldn't see in.'(opening lines)
Mercer William House is now a museum
"Oh, that's a lovely song," said Emma. "Kurt Weil, 1941." She played it, and from that time on, Emma always played "my Ship" whenever I came into the bar. "Bartenders know customers by the drinks they order," she said. "I know them by the songs they ask me to play. Whenever regulars walk in the door, I like to play their favorites. It tickled them and makes them feel they're home."(82)
'Traffic on Congress Street slowed to a crawl in order to take in the glittering procession. The air was filled with honks and whistles and shouts in a mixture of good-natured cheer and lusty derision. The motorists were unaware, of course, that the spectacle they were witnessing was that of the Grand Empress of Savannah parading every wig, gown, and gaff in her imperial wardrobe. Chablis waved to her subjects. "Sistuh's movin' out!" she shouted.'(123)
'At this point in my experiment in bi-urban living, I found myself spending more time in Savannah than New York. The weather alone would have been reason enough for the tilt. By late April, New York was still struggling to free itself from the clutches of winter, and Savannah was well into the unfolding pageantry of a warm and leisurely spring. Camellias, jonquils, and paperwhites had bloomed in December and January. Wisteria and redbuds had followed, and then in mid-March the azaleas burst forth in gigantic pillows of white, red, and vermilion. White dogwood blossoms floated like clouds of confectioner's sugar above the azaleas. The scent of honeysuckle, Confederate jasmine, and the first magnolia blossoms were already beginning to perfume the air. Who needed the chill of New York?'(166)
Savannah Historic District
(photo from Google search - Design2share website)
"Okay. Now, you know how dead time works. Dead time lasts for one hour -- from half an hour before midnight to half an hour after midnight. The half-hour before midnight is for doin' good. The half hour after midnight is for doin' evil." ... "Seems like we need a little of both tonight," said Minerva, "so we best be on our way. Put the paper in your pocket where the dimes is, and take your bottle of water. We goin' to the flower garden"(245)
'Dr. Lindsley told me that an old house will defeat you if you try to restore it all at once -- from roof to windows, weatherboarding, jacking it up, central heating, wiring. You must think of doing one thing at a time. ... You must do it in sections, because that's the way it was built. And then suddenly you find the whole thing completed. Otherwise, it will defeat you.'(297)
'I, too , had become enchanted by Savannah. But after having lived there for eight years, off and on, I had come to understand something of its self-imposed estrangement from the outside world. Pride was part of it. Indifference was too, and so was arrogance. But underneath all that, Savannah had only one motive: to preserve a way of life it believed to be under siege from all sides.'(384-385)
'Savannah spurned all suitors -- urban developers with grandiose plans and individuals (the "Gucci carpetbaggers," as Mary Harty called them) who moved to Savannah and immediately began suggesting ways of improving the place, Savannah resisted every one of them as if they had been General William Tecumseh Sherman all over again. Sometimes that meant throwing up bureaucratic roadblocks; at other times it meant telling tourists only what was good for them to know. Savannah was invariably gracious to strangers, but it was immune to their charms. It wanted nothing so much as to be left alone.'(385)
First Vintage Books Edition, July 1999
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Book idea from JRMD, thanks!!