So, I thought that I hadn't read this, but as I was reading, so much of it was so completely familiar that I started to wonder. I know that I saw the movie ages and ages ago, but I was recognizing complete chunks of dialogue. Surely I couldn't be remembering that much from the movie? (Sometimes I find it a little scary to think about how much information gets packed into a brain in one lifetime. And about how hard it can be to access that information sometimes).
Regardless of whether this was a first-time read or a re-read, I completely enjoyed it. Berendt's depiction of the people of Savannah was affectionate, but at the same time, their real personalities--complete with faults--seemed to come through intact. It didn't seem hazy. I loved Miss Harty, the woman that brought him on a tour of the town squares and the cemetery:
"Savannah's always been wet," she said, "even when the rest of Georgia was dry. During Prohibition, filling stations on Abercorn Street sold whiskey out of gas pumps! Oh, you could always get a drink in Savannah. That's never been any secret. I remember when I was a child, Billy Sunday brought his holy-revival crusade to town. He set himself up in Forsyth Park, and everybody went to hear him. There was great excitement! Mr. Sunday got up and declared at the top of his voice that Savannah was the wickedest city in the world! Well, of course, we all thought that was perfectly marvelous!"
As a huge fan of Joan Aiken, I was especially interested in any mention of her father:
"Aiken loved to come here and watch the ships go by," she said. "One afternoon, he saw one with the name Cosmos Mariner painted on the bow. That delighted him. The word 'cosmos' appears quite often in his poetry, you know. That evening he went home and looked for mention of the Cosmos Mariner in the shipping news. There it was, in tiny type on the list of ships in port. The name was followed by the comment 'Destination Unknown.' That pleased him even more."
"Where is Aiken buried?" I asked. There were no other gravestones in the enclosure.
"Oh, he's here," she said. "In fact, we are very much his personal guests at the moment. It was Aiken's wish that people should come to this beautiful place after he died and drink martinis and watch the ships just as he did. He left a gracious invitation to that effect. He had his gravestone built in the shape of a bench."
An involuntary reflex propelled me to my feet. Miss Harty laughed, and then she too stood up. Aiken's name was inscribed on the bench, along with the words COSMOS MARINER, DESTINATION UNKNOWN.
Luther Driggins, the man who glued string to flies and carried them around town with him and was rumored to have a jar of poison so toxic that if poured into the Savannah water system, it would kill every single person in the city; Chablis, the drag queen with a mouth that might even impress Brian Michael Bendis (the man who, as far as I know, invented the word 'fucktard'); Big Emma, a woman that was famed for refusing to let her chauffeur drive her Mercedes limo--he had to sit in the back while she drove. These are a few of the people that populate this book. And I haven't even mentioned the story that pulls everything together--the murder of Danny Hansford, the 'walking streak of sex' by Jim Williams, a prominent antiques dealer.
I am totally looking forward to reading Berendt's new book--I'm next on the list for the library copy.