Hello again, friends.Welcome to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Pt. 4. I can sense that the story will be taking us interesting places very soon. So sit back, take a sip of your mimosa, and let the sweet scent of Savannah carry you away.
This month’s segment deals with a small part of an already short chapter. It concerns Joe Odom, the likable yet somehow sleazy socialite we met in earlier chapters. Joe is loud, friendly, and has awfully sophisticated tastes. However, you don’t have to squint too hard to see his duplicitous side. Up to now, we’ve seen him up to minor mischief, like gossiping and writing bad checks. Now we find him evicted from his previous residence. But it’s okay, don’t worry too much about Joe – he’s already found another luxurious historical building to host his parties, and of course he’s going to pay his rent…eventually.
While we see some of Joe’s usual shenanigans, we also have confirmation that he’s scamming the owner of his new abode (Berendt calls it ‘effectively squatting’). He’s casual and comfortable about it, as we would expect. He’s far more interested in his new business venture. He’s also awfully interested in what John Berendt has been up to. Specifically, Joe is distressed at Berendt’s latest company.
Remember Lady Chablis, the black transgender woman who performed in Savannah drag shows, and who Berendt depicted in radiant, powerful positivity? Joe starts the chapter rather incredulously criticizing Berendt for associating with her. That includes the use of a particular racial slur that Berendt chose not to censor.
I’m not going to include the quote here, but I’m also not going to criticize Berent for using it. The use of slurs and other violent language in literature is controversial, but the previous chapter featured an honest and heartbreaking spotlight on prejudice. It’s clear that Berent didn’t want to flinch away from racism, sexism, and homophobia that Lady Chablis faced in Savannah. I see no reason why he should give Joe the courtesy of hiding his use of slurs. Remember, this is a true story. Whoever the real Joe Odom really is, there’s nothing he can do to hide his behavior here.
This struck me deeply, as you may have noticed by my multi-paragraph discussion of a passage half as long. Here, I sense a shift in Joe’s characterization. Not only is he starting a sketchy business venture in a building where he isn’t yet an actual tenant, but we see him up to his bad habits (including those bad checks), and he starts the chapter off tossing out harsh, prejudiced criticisms, both at Chablis for existing and Berendt for associating with her.
This attitude, while unacceptable, is completely in character with the time and place. We’ve already seen it in the previous chapter. Midnight has already confronted these problems through Chablis’ daring self-liberation from her job in the previous chapter. This time, the prejudice is coming from a character that the readers already know, and who plenty will already feel endeared to, and it’s coming oh-so casually.
I doubt this is some kind of foreshadowing. It’s probably only an honest snapshot of the prejudices of the time. However, if we look at this short little chapter as a whole, we don’t see a lot of good in Joe. Until now, he’s been the kind of character that readers are groomed to like. What does this mean?
It could be nothing, but I love to speculate, so here we go: This is going to be a turning point for Joe. I think we’re going to see him playing a much more negative role in the story.
What do you think? Am I reading too deep, or are things about to ramp up?