Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where's Waldo, I Mean, Rhett?

I know that the book is called Rhett Butler's People, but I didn't think the emphasis would be on the last word in the title. I somehow thought that Rhett would be the main character and the biggest part of Donald McCaig's companion piece to Gone With The Wind would be narrated from Rhett's viewpoint.

RBP was a hard novel to get into at first.  I despised McCaig's way of summarizing months and years into these little hard horse apples of sentences.  Also, where the hell was Rhett's cool, suave and ironic tone?  Who were all these other people? Why was Rhett always exiting the novel?  Why couldn't the reader follow him?

When Rhett's sister, Rosemary was introduced, I decided to stay with it, although Rhett still stayed decidedly offstage for the most part.  And here came more characters to digest.  Finally, Rhett took a trip to a certain barbecue at Twelve Oaks.  His first take on Scarlett O'Hara reeks of narcissism:  My God!  She's just like me!

Speaking of Scarlett, we get a huge dollop of her point-of-view, but it doesn't quite sound like her, in spite of a few carefully placed "Fiddle-dee-dees".  Actually, quite a  few of the GWTW characters get their say, even little Bonnie Blue, which was a little cringe-y.  (She saw her dad carry her mom up that staircase). McCaig had some fun with Melanie Wilkes.  I enjoyed her parts in the narrative (mostly letters to her new buddy, Rosemary Butler).  Turns out that Melanie emphatically enjoyed knocking boots with Ashley!  She was also wise to Scarlett's designs on her husband.

What really made me warm up to RPB was the mention of an embroidered yellow silk shawl that Rhett brought Rosemary from Nassau.  Something about it seemed familiar, but I couldn't place it.  Even when Rosemary's  little girl loved to play with it and pretend she was a bird, I still couldn't get it.  Then, after something bad happens to little Meg, Rosemary implores Rhett (love that infusion of Victorian melodrama!) to give the shawl to the woman he truly loves.  She knows it's Scarlett.  So Rhett does, and what does Scarlett do with it? 

Then it hit me:  Margaret Mitchell told GWTW readers that Scarlett laboriously picked out all the embroidery and stitched it up and made it into a sash for Ashley to wear.  Yikes!  Donald McCaig tells readers of RPB that Rhett saw Ashley wearing it and put two and two together.  Then Rhett proceeded to toy with Ashley about the sash and about who gave it to him, and flustered the hell out of him.  Ashley was embarrassed, but Rhett came off looking like a huge masochist.  I was embarrassed for him.  When he disappeared from the novel that time, I was almost glad to see him go.

McCaig would warm me up then turn me cold again.  All through the book, it's assumed that Belle Watling's bastard, Tazewell, belongs to Rhett.  Since everyone is insisting so damn hard, then of course he can't be.  Rhett is like the Sphinx on the subject.  Belle isn't saying either, but she enlists Melanie's aid in reforming her image, as she hopes to win Rhett's heart while Scarlett is still safely married to Frank Kennedy.  When the secret of Tazewell's parentage finally comes out after years and years and YEARS, it's kind of like:  "Oh, okay.  Zzzzzzz."  Tazewell!  Ugh, what a name!  It felt like a pebble in my ocular shoe. 

On the plus side, I very much liked the direction McCaig went with the characters and the setting and action post-I don't give a damn.  It gave RPB some much-needed life at that point, and was a big improvement over Alexandra Ripley's imaginings.  Still, RPB suffers from overcrowding, and a shortage of the title character.  On the other hand, maybe Rhett is too cool for this sort of thing.


Anonymous said...

I have read all the Gone with the Wind sequels and knock offs. It has just solidified the fact that you can't mess with a classic. GWTW is so gargantuan, and Mitchell was such a genius, that nothing has even come close, in my opinion.

Kathleen said...

I really loved Gone with the Wind and can't bear to read any of these sequels or prequels.

Bybee said...

Lola and Kathleen,
I know how you feel...I feel very protective towards Mitchell's work and her decision not to write a sequel.

fantsmacle said...

The way you describe this book makes it sound like a waste of time. It seems like a cheap knock-off for a lazy writer. Is it pretentious to try and fill the shoes of a great writer like Mitchell, or anyone else? maybe not, now I'm considering writing Ahab's People; or maybe, Tom Sawyer's People.

Carrie#K said...

O.M.G. I am never going to read that book. Why must people go in and explain every last detail of an implied backstory? It kills the relationship with the story.