Forget legalities: We assess Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone solely on its literary merits.

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated May 18, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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The meteorological conditions may be similar, but there’s a world of atmospheric difference between the words ”gone with the wind” and ”the wind done gone.” The former, appropriated as a book title by author Margaret Mitchell, suggests evanescence, mourning, and loss. The latter, appropriated as a title by author Alice Randall, suggests good riddance to stormy weather in a forthright African-American patois. Mitchell’s novel, first published in 1936, is one of the most popular American books ever written. Randall’s novel, taken to court by heirs to the Mitchell estate, was recently blocked on grounds of copyright infringement: In the words of Atlanta U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell, The Wind Done Gone ”constitutes unabated piracy” — rather than the parody Randall and her publisher claim it is, protected under the First Amendment.

It’s likely the satiric aspects of the work will become visible on appeal; TWDG is about as subtle as General Sherman’s torching of Atlanta. But a legally neutral reading reveals a small-scale experimental artistic creation far less scorching than the hot air around it. To justify her appropriation of one of the best-known English-language novels of the 20th century as the base of her artistic guerrilla operation, Randall ought to be able to say more than that the Georgia-bred Mitchell’s 1930s-style romanticized view of the antebellum South was sadly blinkered. That part we knew.

The Wind Done Gone retells and advances the events in Gone With the Wind through the diaries of Cynara, known as Cinnamon or Cindy, whose father is Scarlett’s white plantation-owning father and whose mother is Scarlett’s black Mammy. The narrator calls her half sister ”Other,” and her ancestral home isn’t Tara but ”Tata.” Rhett Butler, called ”R”, is Cynara’s lover, having left Scarlett. In all, Randall reconfigures 15 characters and several famous scenes. Without knowledge of the original, though, a reader would be pretty well lost, or uninvolved, since the characters have no lives without their GWTW back stories.

It’s a world turned upside down at Tata, a burlesque. The slaves are canny and resourceful and really run the place; the whites are incompetent weaklings. The 41-year-old Randall, a highly successful Nashville-based country-music songwriter, sees her work as ”an antidote,” she says in an issued statement, ”to a story that has hurt generations of African Americans.”

In moments of striking descriptive language, Randall matches Mitchell’s hothouse style flourish for flourish. Cynara says of an offhanded marriage proposal she receives from a black wagon driver, ”The words jangled in my head like pennies in a jar — not enough to buy something with but enough for the sound to strangle thought.” That exultant poetic language, though, clashes with roughly devised scenes driven not by storytelling craft but by a desire to settle accounts. Too affronted by Mitchell’s bosom-heaving novel to sustain the kind of high-spirited skewering SNL revels in every week, too excited by her own trespassing to dig deep, Randall doesn’t unearth anything fresh.

Gone With the Wind

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