Why is MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL classified as non-fiction? (Open spoilers)

I don’t expect this thread to take off since it’s been so many years since it was written, but I’ve been re-reading it and was just curious why with the James Frey and other “memoir” scandals this one gets a pass. I understand why it’s super popular and many of the stories it contains are true, but it’s essentially a novel based on actual events.

Among other fabrications:

-John Berendt barely knew Jim Williams; he had never met him at the time of the murder and the entire first chapter of the book in which Williams’ violent lover comes in and throws a fit is made up (or at least is told in first person with Berendt as the observer when in fact he wasn’t there)

-Berendt was never an intimate friend of Williams and many of the stories- such as patching through calls for Williams while he was in jail- were actually told to him by other people.

-Joe Odom and Nancy are portrayed as being a couple but in fact Odom, though he had been married a couple of times, was gay and in fact was suffering from AIDS (which he ultimately died from) at the time of the events of the book. (Odom and Berendt were friends, and Odom was the source of several of the book’s stories that Berendt told in first person.) Odom was a fixture at the gay bar where Lady Chablis performed and where Berendt was a frequent guest when in town, which is why Odom and Chablis were such major characters.

-Berendt did not accompany Williams to the cemetery or the other meetings with the voodoo woman Minerva and several friends have said that while he did have an interest in the occult it wasn’t nearly to the extent it’s portrayed in the book.

There are several other facets that are highly fictionalized and at times completely fabricated, enough that the book is essentially a well written novel rather than a memoir. Some of the events in fact happened when Berendt was living in NYC; he never lived in Savannah for more than a few weeks at a stretch.

So any idea why it’s still classified as non-fiction when similar books that have about equal truth:fabrication value are torn to shreds?

You’re a librarian, you know a book is just as likely to be classified as whatever the publisher says it is versus what it actually is.

That said, even with the backlash against James Frey, there’s been no movement to reclassify his stuff as fiction, even though his stories are much more fictional than MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL.

A better term might be “why is it accepted as non-fiction rather than as fiction”.

Same reason The Amytiville Horror is non-fiction. Someone thought it would make more money that way.

As others have pointed out, publishers self-determine classification mostly based on where they think the book will sell the most copies.

But I also think it’s a matter of changing standards - before the whole James Frey thing, people didn’t really care.

It was understood that a memoir, especially one in a semi-novel form, was not going to be as strict with the facts as a real auto-biography. In fact, some of these even had little disclaimers to the tune of: events might be portrayed out of sequence for effect, or several real life people might be combined into one character, names might be changed to protect the guilty, etc.

Generally people took these things with as much seriousness as they took films which say “based on a true story”…

Also, I think that while something like MITGOGAE was expected to be read for it’s own literary merits and was more about colorful characters in a colorful town, James Frey’s work was taken a little bit more seriously because he was sensationalizing his own supposed personal history, and his own character - and he used that to promote a certain viewpoint, and perhaps even his own fame.

The one that always got me was the Little House on a Prairie books being classified as “fiction”.

I read James Herriot’s biography (written by his son) and was shocked to know that some of his stories were not true, but rather were a compilation of many of the people/incidences that occurred.