The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
Green were the leaves, green was the grass, green the grasshoppers, green all the insignificant pretty things, and that’s why Other loved green, because she was, or saw herself to be, an insignificant pretty living thing. She didn’t wear it because of the money or because it matched her eyes. She wasn’t, in fact, vain. She knew I was the prettier one. Knew it right off and didn’t let it worry her.
First, let me start by saying that Houghton Mifflin is playing it fast and loose with the word “parody.” Parodies imitate, exaggerate, and mock, normally in a humorous way. Alice Randall isn’t mocking Gone with the Wind; she’s invading it, taking no prisoners and leaving no institution of the Old South unscathed. She’s like a second Sherman, burning Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta — and its counterparts in the minds of all Gone with the Wind readers — to the ground.
The Wind Done Gone is the story of a former slave named Cynara, also known as Cinnamon or Cindy. She is, we are meant to understand, the daughter of Gerald O’Hara (referred to as “planter”) and Mammy, both characters recognizable from this novel’s predecessor. (Spoilers ahead!)Close readers of Gone with the Wind may remember that Eleanor O’Hara was constantly accompanied by a series of young slaves who carried her sewing box; it is implied that Cynara was one of these girls, and her relationship with the “Lady” of the plantation is much closer than that between her and her biological mother.
Randall certainly does everything she can to set Cynara above Scarlett, or “Other.” Cynara is prettier, smarter and apparently better-bred (despite the repeated examples of her mother and fathers’ lack of breeding). Her hair curls perfectly, and her skin is the color of honey. She’s never had a child, so she remains flat-stomached and slim-hipped even as she cattily comments that Scarlett’s three children have done a number on her body. Cynara is amazingly cultured, mingling with congressmen and visiting Europe and Washington D.C.
Perhaps most audaciously of all, she sleeps with Rhett. Apparently all of Rhett Butler’s visits to Belle Watling’s house were to visit Cynara, who was a prostitute there. I think. It’s hard to say, really, as Cynara never explains how she and Rhett met, only that it was before Rhett met Scarlett. In fact, she claims he loved Scarlett not for herself, but because Scarlett reminded him of Cynara.
And once Randall is done undermining one of the greatest love stories of all time, she runs roughshod over the rest of the novel. Ashley loves Melanie because she is flat-chested and reminds him of his black half-cousin, Prissy’s brother, with whom he had a relationship — yeah, Ashley’s gay. Prissy isn’t dumb after all — she’s smart enough to kill Melly, anyway. Oh yeah, and Eleanor and Phillipe were secretly octoroon, and couldn’t get married because their families were frightened that their children would show their African lineage.
Randall seems bent on seeking vengeance for crimes committed against black people in the 19th century. Fair enough. That’s exactly what Toni Morrison did in Beloved, except for with much greater depth and facility. Randall’s novel read like an odd Gone with the Wind-Beloved hybrid, a revisionist history bent on taking down a Southern institution while relying solely on that institution.
Because, after all, this book’s worth depends on Gone with the Wind. Yes, it’s subversive and interesting and turns the modern notion of ante-bellum plantation life on its head. But Randall needed Mitchell’s novel to give her own work depth and direction. Without Ashley, Randall couldn’t have painted a picture of a homosexual southern gentleman; without Rhett and Scarlett, Cynara would be more sad than shocking, just another biracial ladies’ maid in a whole army of them that existed in Georgia before the war.
So is this a book worth reading? Yes. Randall does have some brilliant moments, even if her heroine is derivative and slightly boring. But a book worth buying? Not really, especially at the $22 list price. If you’d like a stunning story about slavery, read Beloved. No famous faces make appearances, but at least it’s based on a true story and feels true on an emotional level.
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