Now that a United States Circuit Court of Appeals has made it possible to read Alice Randall's & quot;parody, & quot; the only question that remains is, do you really want to?
To begin with, Randall's story is far from a parody.
Second, it is a cipher, relying wholly on her reader's encyclopedic knowledge of Margaret Mitchell's 1,024 page classic to place her thinly veiled character reproductions in their proper places. At times, readers will be wondering if the army of attorneys representing Houghton Mifflin and the Mitchell estate weren't fighting like Grant and Lee over outright plagiarism rather than literary infringement.
The storytelling format is a time-honored one. Randall uses the recently discovered diaries of a mulatto former slave, who happens to be the daughter of Gerald O'Hara and his house servant Mammy, to tell the true story behind the misrepresentations of Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning work.
Although of novella length, Randall's work inflicts more damage than Sherman's march to the sea. We find Rhett Butler ("R") is having an ongoing affair with Cynara, Melanie ("Mealy Mouth") was a serial killer and Scarlett has been stripped of her Southern Belle status, making this parody seem more like an opportunity to settle a few racial scores, as well as create some stereotypes of its own.
Although misrepresentations of slavery by Mitchell are, after 70 years, easily realized by both reading and movie-going audiences, the central point of Randall's work from which both plot and character evolve, is to provide "a more complex view of the South."
While some may argue that Faulkner, Welty and O'Connor spent a lifetime trying to explain the Southern consciousness in all its forms, Randall believes her answer is contained in these brief pages. That may be possible when one concludes that her sole contention (pardon me, "complex view of the South") lies in the overall failure to recognize miscegenation as common to the experience of slavery.
Randall has created a work that doesn't read like a rip-off, but clearly couldn't exist without "GWTW." Houghton Mifflin, defended it as parody, but this earnest work is hardly that. It is essentially a literary exercise, one that needed more of a workout.
"TWDG" cleverly snaps into Mitchell's epic, snug as a jigsaw puzzle piece. The characters and places of Mitchell's work are thinly veiled, and there is no sense pretending -- even for legal reasons -- that they aren't Rhett, Scarlett, Ashley, Melanie, and Tara.
The movie version of "GWTW" is so engraved in our memory that it serves handily to bring Randall's book to life. It would be impossible not to imagine Clark Gable as "R.," or Vivien Leigh as "Other," Cynara's half-sister. If only Cynara were so memorable. Randall offers little physical description and fails to give her a personality as vivid as Mitchell's. It is about one-fifth the length of "GWTW," and Cynara is just as thin.
Written as a slave's diary, it suffers from inconsistent style. But, despite the wandering voice, there are passages that fulfill Randall's intention to widen the image of the South by telling the story from a slave's point of view.
Though it could use a strict editor, it does open a window into how attitudes about race evolved in America. But the story of Cynara's life, though interesting, isn't strong enough to have the lasting effect of "GWTW."
Just because the legal storm has subsided long enough to apparently allow its publication, don't expect the furor to blow over anytime soon. That's because the book, given all the hubbub, probably is not what most people expect, being neither a broad parody nor an epic retelling of "GWTW.
Rather, it is a fascinating if flawed first novel that reads like a slave narrative/diary. Many of its characters, as well as some scenes and sentences, come courtesy of Mitchell, with production credits by David O. Selznick.
Randall writes in an interview included at the back of advance copies of the book that she fell in love with Mitchell's novel when she was 12 but was troubled by its racist stereotyping and its inaccurate portrait of Southern history. "I did not seek to exploit 'Gone With the Wind'," she said in an interview with The New York Times. "I wanted to explode it."
But it's a muffled explosion, at best. The diary technique allows for Cynara to explore and express her emotions on any number of topics. But it's a passive, reactive form when it comes to provocative events and character development.
Most of the book is taken up with Cynara's conflicted, complicated feelings about her mother, her half-sister, her lover and herself. Some is poignant and poetic; some unintentionally hilarious; and some echo Mitchell's flowery prose. Oddly, the most interesting parts of the book are those where Cynara strikes out on her own.
But, in the end, Randall doesn't go far enough in creating her own world for Cynara, or in portraying an alternate view of that depicted by Mitchell. It could have been a real blast. Instead, it's more a tempest in a teacup.
"TWDG" is an admirably well-intentioned, but ultimately uninspired, attempt to rewrite the "GWTW" story from a black perspective.
The book is full of what might be, in other hands, amusing reversals. Unfortunately such inspiration cannot overcome the lack of a coherent plot, a compelling main character, or a believable ending. The book is theoretically a parody, but in practice it more closely resembles a serious literary novel dashed off in a hurry.
Randall lacks Mitchell's gift for creating vivid and fully realized characters. It is one of the great ironies of this noble project that Mammy, the most important black character in "GWTW," was far more alive in the Dixie-whistling original than this modern enlightened version.

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