cover image Rhett Butler's People

Rhett Butler's People

Donald McCaig, . . St. Martin's, $27.95 (500pp) ISBN 978-0312262518

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 jaunty worldly-wise 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. (Nov.)