July 10, 2001 -- The Old South won't rise again, but Scarlett O'Hara will be forever swishing her hoop skirts in pop culture's collective memory.
Holding court for enamored swains on the steps of Tara. Melting as Rhett Butler sweeps her into his arms and up the stairs. Screaming to the heavens, "As God as my witness, I'll never go hungry again!" Steeling herself to overcome the next obstacle with her mantra: "Tomorrow is another day."
Well, tomorrow is here, but Scarlett's been left behind. In The Wind Done Gone (Houghton Mifflin), author Alice Randall takes a look at an alternate universe, Tara — one where the slaves have their say.
The controllers of Margaret Mitchell's estate tried to block publication of this parody, claiming it was an unauthorized sequel. They might have spared themselves the trouble. The characters in Randall's book bear only the flimsiest of resemblances to Mitchell's creations.
A Spineless Scarlett, A Wishy-Washy Rhett
The heroine is Cynara, also called Cinnamon or Cindy, whom Randall has invented as the mixed-race half sister of Scarlett. Scarlett herself is known as "Other," and she's been reduced to a shadowy sad sack who boo-hoos because Rhett has left her and then enters a decline when Mammy dies.
Rhett, known here as "R.," has been keeping Cynara as his mistress, and he wants to marry her. If it seems unlikely that Rhett, who tells Scarlett he's not a marrying man but decides he finally has to catch her between husbands, would clamor to marry a woman who's not considered to be of his class, that's because he's not Rhett. R. has lost all Captain Butler's sardonic wit, his swash and his buckle.
The other great love of Scarlett's life, Ashley Wilkes, here becomes "Dreamy Gentleman." And he's gay, which does explain why he's the one man Scarlett can't ensnare. Melanie is "Mealy Mouth." Belle Watling, the madam, has become Beauty, and she's a lesbian. Gerald O'Hara is known only as "Planter" to Cynara, whose mother is Scarlett's nanny, Mammy.
Mammy and the master's valet, Pork — here incongruously dubbed "Garlic," for reasons unknown — are a Machiavellian duo who run Tara (called "Tata") while "Planter danced like a bandy-legged Irish marionette." Cynara is haunted by the knowledge that her mother acquiesced in her father's decision to sell her into slavery — and deeply resents that all Mammy's attention is taken up by Other, her white charge, instead of her own daughter. (Scarlett had two sisters, but Cynara doesn't seem to be aware of their existence.)
A Ghost of a Character
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Gone With the Wind and its Oscar-winning movie adaptation have enthralled generations of readers, and left countless young girls debating the merits of Rhett vs. Ashley (or at least, Clark Gable vs. Leslie Howard). But a central flaw remains: Its view of the antebellum South is romantic — unless you happen to be black. In Scarlett's nostalgic world, slaves are like simple children who need to be looked after, and the Ku Klux Klan is composed of chivalrous knights trying to protect the flower of Southern womanhood.
It's certainly high time someone took those notions and turned them upside down. The problem is, Randall can't seem to make up her mind. Is she satirizing GWTW or is she telling an entirely different tale, one about a mixed-race young woman who moves to Washington after the Civil War? It takes Randall a good half of the novel before she finally establishes a coherent voice for Cynara, who alternates between speaking in dialect and uttering such lines as, "This is our Götterdämmerung. This is the twilight and we are the gods."
Cynara tells her tale in such a dreamy fashion that it remains hard to get a handle on. Maybe Randall would have had better success if she had taken an existing character from GWTW and given her dimension — perhaps Prissy, the rolling-eyed, squeaky-voiced slave girl (played by Butterfly McQueen in the movie) who "don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies" — or perhaps Mammy herself. But as it is, Cynara is just a ghost of an idea, not a character to inspire empathy. And without Scarlett, frankly, my dear, we don't give a damn.