The South and Rhett rise again


It will be Gone With the Wind all over again at Alexandrias Lyceum next Thursday when author Donald McCaig reads from Rhett Butlers People, his prequel to Margaret Mitchells Pulitzer-winning classic.

Big money is riding on the book, as the publisher, St. Martins Press, had to pay $4.5 million to the Mitchell estate before a word was written, just for the right to use the characters of the original.

It was a gamble, but probably a safe one, because although the critics savaged Scarlett, Alexandra Ripleys 1991 GWTW sequel , it still racked up an impressive six million copies sold.

The prequels esteemed and best-selling author, Donald McCaig, has written several books, among them the award-winning Jacobs Ladder, hailed by the Virginia Quarterly as the Best Civil War novel ever written.

The book, which has been kept under wraps Harry Potter-style until Nov. 6, sounds like an action-packed winner, just from the first (permitted) chapter.

Whats in the new book
Women will again be swooning as McCaig reimagines the swaggering and seductive Rhett Kershaw Butler and his era. The book reveals his rebellious South Carolina boyhood under his stern and dominating father, a rice planter and legislator, until he flees from home after seeing the beating death of a slave.

A black riverman, Tunis Bonneau, offers him help and friendship, and his life, and Belle Watlings persona (GWTWs scandalous madam), becomes dramatically linked with Rhetts.

Expelled from West Point, Rhett becomes a blockade runner off the Carolina coast, is enriched by his lucrative shipping company in New Orleans, and leaves for gold-rush San Francisco to become richer still. When he finally returns to Charleston, he meets his fate in the woman he becomes obsessed with: Scarlett OHara.

Familiar GWTW scenes and people Ashley and Melanie Wilkes, Rhetts sister Rosemary and Belle Watling reappear  in new ways as the war continues.

The books first appearance will be in New York, the night before Alexandrias reading. The Alexandria location seems a more apt choice: the Lyceums columns are subtle reminders of Tara, and in the street outside is a statue of a Confederate soldier, facing south. The inscription indicates he is not looking North, as an oncoming invader, but South, and carrying no weapon, in the spirit of unification, and the Reconstruction that must take place.

Admission to the 7 p.m. reading and signing is $5, which will be deducted from the cost if a book is bought. Seating is limited.