Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

rhett-butler1It’s hard not to see the parallels between Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and McCaig’s Rhett Butler’s People. Rhett’s beloved sister, Rosemary, brings up strong reminders of Scarlett — her first husband, John, loves her to death, but Rosemary’s in love with the idea of another man, Andrew. Her daughter with John dies, and I’ll stop right there before I ruin the whole book.

The novel begins with Rhett going to call out Belle Watling’s older brother, Shad, who has accused him of being the father of Belle’s baby. From there Rhett Butler’s People blurs past his early years to part three, the actual sequel. Except this novel is appropriately named because this Rhett Butler’s People is about just that — Rhett Butler’s people, not Rhett.

“He was disgraced; he would be always be disgraced. He was alone; he would always be alone. Rhett could endure being unloved. He could not live without loving.” {pg. 110}

Major points in Gone with the Wind — Bonnie’s death, Ashley’s surprise party — are skipped over in favor of information about Rosemary’s relationship with her husbands. Bonnie’s death is an especially huge moment for Rhett, and her demise ultimately leads to the end of Gone with the Wind. I don’t understand why McCaig felt the need to only mention this pinnacle moment in a letter between Melanie and Rosemary.

I can, however, understand why this “prequel/sequel” was authorized by Mitchell’s heirs; so much of Rhett’s life reflects that of Scarlett that it’s hard not to think McCaig just changed the characters’ names. For example, after Rhett’s father dies, his mother, Elizabeth, loses her mind; reminiscent of Gerald’s response to Ellen’s death. And, of course, there are also the parallels between Rosemary and Scarlett.

One of the things I don’t understand about this novel is McCaig’s need to include Scarlett’s point of view. For those of thus that have read Mitchell’s classic, we’ve already been privy to Scarlett’s thoughts. The book, like its predecessor, also begins to get bogged down by details about the Civil War/Reconstruction, but McCaig’s novel doesn’t posses the same beautiful writing as Gone with the Wind.

Truth be told, I really enjoyed reading the first two parts of Rhett Butler’s People — the actual “sequel” part seemed rush and was bothersome — and had I never read Gone with the Wind I would have immensely enjoyed McCaig’s “prequel/sequel.” But as I have read Gone with the Wind, it’s hard not to see the parallels and ignore the similarities between the two novels.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • McCaig, Donald. Rhett Butler’s People. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007. Print. 500 pgs. ISBN: 9780312262515. Source: Library.
Book Cover © St. Martin’s Press. Retrieved: April 21, 2009.
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5 thoughts on “Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

  1. I’ve just bought the audio book version of this one. I’m really looking forward to listening to it.

    I’m prepared for certain aspects of it to be annoying, especially as I read GWTW so recently, thank you for a well- written review.

  2. @ Jackie: I think you’ll enjoy listening to it, Jackie. Like I said, I enjoyed reading the first two parts of the novel. However, there are quite a few (unavoidable) plot similarities that will make you think McCaig just changed the character’s names from Mitchell’s.

  3. Great review.

    I absolutely detested this book. (Detested!) But, as you say, that’s because I’ve read GWTW.

    Do you know he got Ashley’s eye color wrong? And Scarlett’s waist size. (If I’m remembereing the details right. It’s been a couple years, but suffice it to say I was appalled by the lack of attention to detail.)

    I don’t have any memory of Rosemary being like Scarlett. Scarlett is charming; the characters in RBP are dull. Quite.

    IMHO.

    I can’t believe the Mitchell people authorized this? MM wanted no sequel — especially not written by a stranger! She said the story ended where it ended, but if anybody was going to write one, it should be her. (And she was never going to write one. That ending was the whole reason she wrote the book.)

    I like the concept behind writing the story again in Rhett’s POV, but you’re right: McCaig strayed into territory Margaret Mitchell had already covered. Trying to re-perform after a master!! And write the infamous women of GWTW (Mellie and Scarlett) in his voice? Ugh, horrendous! He should have stayed in Rhett’s POV. And, you know, given Rhett a bit of personality, rather than turning him into a comfortable McCaig cardboard mime and tossing in a couple ‘my dear’s to remind us we’re reading Rhett.

    AND THAT ENDING????

    Ugh. Just thinking about this book irritates me. It’s an abomination on the memory of GWTW.

    From Page 1, I abhorred the story on every count. You can’t paste the name Rhett on a man and think he can pass for the finest male character in all literature. Rhett was brilliant. That other guy (I’ll refrain from calling him ‘McCaig’s Rhett’ since McCaig has no claim on the character) was not Rhett Butler. No. He was most certainly not.

    What I abhorred was the audacity of the attempt to follow a master, not the writer himself. I might try Jacob’s Ladder at some point. But making money off some other writer whom you fail to fully research? whom you profit from? whom you cheapen with a Grade D performance?

    Appalling.

  4. Disappointing to see you weren’t convinced about the sequel part.

    Ever since reading Gone with the Wind I’ve been tempted to read some, but never had the courage after some disastrous experiences with Pride & Prejudice sequels…

    • I’ll admit that I really wanted there to be sequel to Mitchell’s book when I finished reading the original. But the more I think about it, the more I agree with Mitchell’s refusal to write a sequel — the book should end where it does.

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