The story or the message - which is more important?
That was one topic of discussion Thursday night when The Augusta Chronicle's book club met to discuss The Wind Done Gone, the controversial parody of Gone With the Wind penned by Alice Randall.
The book is told through the journal entries of a slave, similar to published slave narratives. The main character, Cynara, is the mulatto daughter of Mammy and Planter, the father of the Scarlett O'Hara character, who is simply called "Other" in The Wind Done Gone.
The meeting, held at Barnes & Noble Booksellers on Augusta West Parkway, drew 14 people for a discussion that lasted an hour and 15 minutes and focused on the first half of the book. The Chronicle plans another discussion at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 19, at the bookstore to discuss the rest of the book. Interested readers also can discuss the book on The Chronicle's Web site: A forum titled Chronicle Book Club has been set up at http://augustachronicle.com/forums.
A key topic Thursday was whether the agenda of the book - the author's stated intention was to "explode" the myths of Gone With the Wind - was worth losing what some say could have been a more compelling story if it stood separate from GWTW.
"I think it was masterful for her to do this, to be able to parallel this story with something we romanticize the way we do Gone With the Wind," said Philane Williams, who told her own story of the pain she felt when a white friend casually mentioned what a good nanny she'd make for the woman's children. "We've bought into it, and I think this brings a different perspective."
Others felt the book would have been stronger if it had focused solely on Cynara.
"I think Ms. Randall would have been a lot stronger on her own two feet," said Stuart Chapel, who has read the book three times. "She could have kept at least 60 percent of the book and developed her original character. I think Ms. Randall cheated herself - I was disappointed because I saw an interesting character that was growing, but we had to keep spending too much time on Gone With the Wind."
Mr. Chapel found parts of the book that dealt with Cynara leaving Georgia and going to Washington, D.C., where she met a black congressman and his circle of successful peers, not only more interesting but also more informative, because that's the type of story you don't often hear, he said.
Participants discussed the quality of language in the book and the use of dialect - Ms. Randall has said she used Cynara's literary ability to counter the uneducated, intellectually inferior portrayals of black characters in Gone With the Wind.
"I found the book challenging - intellectually stimulating and a challenging read for me," Edward Maner said.
Readers noted a progression in the writing as Cynara became more educated but also pointed to places where the character would drop back into dialect, a break of rhythm that was difficult for some readers. Mr. Chapel recommended reading the book out loud to catch the flow and progression of the language and to help spot outside factors that influence what dialect Cynara uses.
Readers also discussed characterization and how it affected - and was affected by - their reading of the characters in Gone with the Wind.
"The whole book seemed like a comparison of Cynara to Scarlett," Mr. Chapel said. "Cynara is a parody of Scarlett, just as the whole book is a parody of Gone With the Wind. This is an alternate Scarlett, achieving only what life would allow her to achieve."
Ms. Randall's characters have some notable differences from those in GWTW. Some, in the book's franker discussion of sexual matters, are portrayed as homosexual. 'Mealy Mouth," the counterpart of Melanie - a paragon of the Southern lady in Gone With the Wind - has become a multiple killer. Garlic and Miss Priss are no longer foolish childlike characters but have been imbued with a slyness and cunning that uses a simple front as a camouflage - and that made them unlikable or jarring to some readers. Some even found Cynara, the protagonist of the book, unlikable.
"I was surprised at what she did with the character of Garlic," Ann Cassara said. "She turned Garlic into what I thought Mammy was when I read Gone With the Wind. I always thought that Mammy ran the house - I even said that to my children when we saw the movie together - and she has Garlic in that position."
The book not only shed light on the other side of slavery but also burst the gracious bubble that's the myth of antebellum Southern culture, the group said. The group noted that not all Southern whites owned slaves and discussed how GWTW created the impression that all whites lived gracefully and grandly.
"When I read Gone With the Wind - and I don't know how many times I've seen the movie - I always felt the horror of what happened to the Old South," said Betty Boliek. "This book made me realize that didn't happen to me - my family were poor farmers in North Carolina."
What: The Augusta Chronicle book club discussion meeting
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 19
Where: Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1336 Augusta West Parkway
Discussion topic: The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall. The complete book will be discussed.
For information, call Alisa DeMao at 823-3223 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org