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Scarlett was black 

The Wind Done Gone is one big yawn

If we needed further proof that there's almost no such thing as bad publicity, here it is.

The Wind Done Gone has sold out in bookstores all over Georgia, as of this writing. Don't panic, though. More copies are on the way.

In case you missed the flap, The Wind Done Gone is the controversial spin-off on Gone With the Wind. In a public relations coup that wound up promoting distribution of Wind Done Gone far beyond its publisher's wildest dreams, the Mitchell estate attempted to block the new book's publication. Mitchell's estate holds the copyright to Gone With the Wind and stipulates that any sequel should contain no homosexuality or miscegenation.

Though Wind Done Gone features both, an Atlanta federal Appeals Court recently found that the Mitchell estate's case held no merit. Surprise! The first amendment is good for something.

I have to admit, I would never have bought this book had it not been a target of attempted censorship.

"Not my cup of tea," said the bookseller who rang up my sale. She lost interest after learning that Tara had been renamed "Tata." Having formerly supplied me with heavyweight titles like Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust and Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, she predicted I would breeze through Wind Done Gone in about 15 minutes.

Well. It took more than 15 minutes, but I did manage to put the contents of Randall's book between my ears faster than Sherman took Atlanta. Without robbing you of too much suspense, I can say this much: The main character, Cynara, is Scarlett's half sister, the result of a long-term relationship between Scarlett's father and Mammy.

Scarlett and Cynara share more than a father in the new novel. They also share Rhett, who pursues a relationship with Scarlett only because she reminds him of the gal he really loves but can't marry without incurring social disapproval.

And there's yet another thing Cynara and Scarlett have in common: biracial ancestry. That's right. In Wind Done Gone, Scarlett (renamed Other) is legally black, according to pre-emancipation codes, which states that if your great great grandmother was of African ancestry, so were you.

OK, I've done gone and given away one of the novel's plot twists, but, to be honest, I can't imagine anyone being as shocked as Randall apparently hopes. What American isn't of mixed ancestry these days? And why would anyone bother to sort it out?

Randall has said that when she read Gone With the Wind, she wondered where all the biracial children -- the inevitable byproduct of plantation customs -- were. This is a legitimate question. Mitchell had an enormous blind spot where this cultural phenomenon was concerned. Mitchell was not, however, averse to interracial relationships. She wrote a presumably sympathetic novel about a love affair between a white woman and a black man. I say "presumably" because who knows? It's never been published. Getting that book in print would be a wonderful project for the Margaret Mitchell estate, wouldn't it? It would be great to see that company put its heads together on something more worthwhile than attempting to thwart a lightweight contender like Wind Done Gone.

The main problem with The Wind Done Gone is that all its publicity promises it will be edgy, irreverent and funny. Randall has been quoted as saying she wants the book to be a big "belly laugh." On what page? Capitalizing on the "adverse" publicity, Houghton Mifflin has shamelessly stamped "The Unauthorized Parody" on the cover. Silly me. Call something a parody, I expect to laugh.

Wind Done Gone just isn't funny. It's also too pious and self-pitying to merit the words "irreverent" or "edgy." It should not be called a parody. It's merely a novel "set in the world" of Gone With the Wind.

Wind Done Gone may have some literary merit that I'm simply too shallow to appreciate. Randall certainly waxes poetic with lines like, "Green were the leaves, green was the grass, green the grasshoppers, green all the insignificant pretty things, all the moving tokens of living, and that's why Other loved green, because she was, or saw herself to be, an insignificant pretty living thing."

And there's little question that, weighing in with 206 pages, Wind Done Gone is more concise and more tightly crafted than the original sprawling Mitchell epic.

What Wind Done Gone lacks, if you can get past the deplorable dearth of humor, is a main character as interesting as Scarlett. We search the pages of Randall's novel for anyone as vibrant as Mitchell's heroine, but Cynara is not up to the task.

Sure, Gone With the Wind is unwieldy, flawed, full of unlikely dialog that any self-respecting daytime soap opera would run from. But Scarlett's indomitable personality makes it all worthwhile. She's just so corrupt and resourceful and indestructible and delightfully self-centered. "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again." Who hasn't felt like that?

Scarlett represents the miraculous adaptability of the whole human species. She captures what's best about the human race -- our lust for life -- and also what's worst -- our determination to secure our own survival no matter what the cost to others.

Compared to that, Randall's heroine is a non-starter. I don't think Margaret Mitchell is rolling over in her grave. She's probably just yawning.

The Wind Done Gone, Houghton Mifflin, 206 pgs., $22.

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