Margaret Mitchell's story of Scarlett O'Hara's and Rhett Butler's beguiling, twisted love for each other, set against the gruesome background of a nation torn apart by war, is by all accounts epic--so much so that it feels untouchable. Yet McCaig's take on what many would consider a sacred cow of 20th-century American literature is a worthy suitor for Mitchell's many ardent fans, for reasons that may not be altogether obvious. It would be easy to look at Gone With the Wind
and Rhett Butlers People
side by side and catalog what is accurate and what isn't and tally up the score. In doing so, however, the fan is apt to miss out on the best part of this whole book: Rhett Butler himself. McCaig's Rhett is thoroughly modern, both a product of his Charleston plantation and an emphatic rejection of it. He is filled with romance and ingenuity, grit and wit, and a toughness matched only by a sense of humility that evokes so gracefully the hardship and heartbreak of a society falling apart. It's not hard to love Rhett in his weakness for Scarlett's love, but it is entirely amazing to love him as he rescues Belle Watling, mentors her bright young son Tazewell, adores his sister Rosemary, dotes on dear Bonnie Blue, and defends his best friend Tunis Bonneau to the very end.
To pluck a character from a beloved book and recalibrate the story's point-of-view isn't an easy thing to do. Ultimately, the new must ring true with the old, and this is where Rhett Butlers People succeeds beyond measure. In the spirit of Mitchell's masterpiece, McCaig never questions that love--of family, lover, land, or country--is the tie that binds these characters to life, for better or worse. --Anne Bartholomew
From Publishers Weekly
Was it strictly necessary to our understanding of Gone With the Wind's dashing hero to flesh out his backstory, replay famous GWTW scenes from his perspective, and crank the plot past the original's astringent denouement? Perhaps not, but it's still a fun ride. In this authorized reimagining, Rhett, disowned son of a cruel South Carolina planter, is still a jauntily worldwise charmer, roguish but kind; Scarlett is still feisty, manipulative and neurotic; and the air of besieged decorum is slightly racier. (Rhett: "My dear, you have jam at the corner of your mouth." Scarlett: "Lick it off.") But it says much about the author's sure feel for Margaret Mitchell's magnetic protagonists that they still beguile us. McCaig (Jacob's Ladder) broadens the canvas, giving Rhett new dueling and blockade-running adventures and adding intriguing characters like Confederate cavalier-turned-Klansman Andrew Ravanel, a rancid version of Ashley Wilkes who romances Rhett's sister Rosemary. He paints a richer, darker panorama of a Civil War-era South where poor whites seethe with resentment and slavery and racism are brutal facts of life that an instinctive gentleman like Rhett can work around but not openly challenge. McCaig thus imparts a Faulknerian tone to the saga that sharpens Mitchell's critique of Southern nostalgia without losing the epic sweep and romantic pathos. The result is an engrossing update of GWTW that fans of the original will definitely give a damn about.
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