Review: 'The Wind Done Gone' a mild breeze
"The Wind Done Gone"
By Claire Davis
(CNN) -- The synopsis seems to cry out for controversy. "This stunningly different Civil War novel boasts a heroine to rival Scarlett O'Hara," it reads. "Daughter of the white plantation owner and his black mistress," the heroine was "conceived, born and reared to womanhood behind the House. Steeped in knowledge for the times and the people," the novel "is a magnificent tale told with devastating truth."
A description of Alice Randall's "The Wind Done Gone"? Not quite. This blurb was written about Margaret Walker's hugely successful 1967 novel, "Jubilee."
In other words, "The Wind Done Gone" is nothing new. And beyond a romp through Tara, it's nothing much.
Randall isn't the first black author to explore an antebellum South different from that created by Margaret Mitchell in her now classic "Gone with the Wind." As far back as 1892, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper offered "Iola Leroy: or, Shadows Uplifted," a challenge to the myth of moonlight and magnolias that has held sway in Southern fiction since the fall of Appomattox.
Nevertheless, while Walker, Harper, and others have reinterpreted the legend of the antebellum South as a land of kindly planters, beautiful belles, and contented slaves, none has threatened the seemingly sacred text, "Gone with the Wind," so directly and so pointedly as has Alice Randall.
'The story that hadn't been told'
Randall, who has admitted a certain fascination with "Gone with the Wind," turns Mitchell's novel on its head. In an interview included with review copies of "The Wind Done Gone," she recalled rereading "Gone with the Wind" and wondering, "Where are the mulattos on Tara? Where is Scarlett's half-sister? ... I knew I had to tell her story, tell the story that hadn't been told," she adds.
And so Randall writes of Cynara, daughter of Planter (Gerald O'Hara) and Mammy, who outshines Other -- that is, Scarlett -- in wit, resourcefulness, and strength.
In Randall's version of the events at Tara -- Tata in her book -- slaves hold the power. Garlic (Pork), Mammy, and Miss Priss (Prissy) control the household. The day of Mammy's funeral Garlic explains to Cynara the hold he and the other slaves maintained at Tara. "I built this place with my hands ... Every column fluted was a monument to the slaves and the whips our bodies had received. ... Right this morning we're burying the real mistress of the house."
Cynara begins to understand how things work at Tata: "Garlic pulled the string, and Planter danced like a bandy-legged Irish marionette." Miss Priss explains the mysterious deaths of the O'Hara boys by hissing into Cynara's ear that Mammy murdered the babies when they were born. When asked why Mammy would perform such an act, Miss Priss replied: "What would we a done with a sober white man on this place?"
Randall renders the white characters ineffectual. Dreamy Gentleman (Ashley) is gay, and Miss Priss maintains a certain hold over him because she knows his secret. Mealy Mouth (Melanie) is a skinny, shriveled-up little thing incapable of doing anything of any consequence (except give birth). Lady (Ellen), the tower of strength, piety, and rectitude in Gone with the Wind, is reduced by the knowledge that she, and therefore Scarlett and her sisters, have been tainted by Negro blood. Even R. (Rhett), the dashing blockade-runner, is old, wrinkly, and unappealing.
Clever, but limited
Cynara, who through much of the novel suffers a painful envy of Other, comes to learn that Other poses no serious threat to her. Mammy had loved Cynara unconditionally. Other could never be sure of Mammy's love.
"Maybe Mammy loved her and maybe Mammy didn't. Slavery made it impossible for Other to know," Randall writes. When late in the novel Cynara is asked about her sister, she thinks, "I have nothing more to say. I am bored with that story." Cynara is now free to live her own life, out from the shadows cast by Other.
Readers of "Gone with the Wind" will find Randall's rendition clever. On the first page of her "diary," given to her by R., Cynara records that Other "was not beautiful, but men seldom recognized this, caught up in the cloud of commotion and scent in which she moved," a twist on Mitchell's famous opening line. Even for those unfamiliar with the 1936 Pulitzer Prize winner, Randall drops enough hints to get them up to speed. She frequently tells the "white folks' " version of the story before offering the "truth."
But the genre of parody is limiting. Ultimately, it cannot transcend that which it seeks to overturn.
If Randall came to bury Scarlett, not to praise her, she has done neither. "Gone with the Wind" still remains at the center of "The Wind Done Gone." And if Cynara manages to break free from Other, Randall cannot break free from Margaret Mitchell. She cannot imagine a South without the O'Haras, without Rhett, without Mammy.
It is curious that in Randall's attempt to move us away from the land created by Margaret Mitchell she brings us closer to it. Cynara may have left Atlanta at the end of the novel, but Randall's readers are still back at Tara.
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