Gone with the Wind (Mass Market)

Gone with the Wind (Mass Market) - Margaret Mitchell I hardly know what to say. I expected fluff, and hoped it would at least be entertaining fluff, maybe even with a few redeeming literary qualities. What I got instead was one of the most engrossing and thought-provoking stories I have ever read. Certainly the writing has its flaws (chiefly its occasional repetitiveness), and I remain undecided on whether to call it a great book (the way Moby Dick or Madame Bovary are great books), but it is unquestionably a great story. Melodramatic at times, yes, but no more so than, say, East of Eden, and far less so than Moby Dick; but most importantly, no more so than life.

I loved and hated Scarlett and Rhett, was by turns shocked, frustrated, and saddened by them, and in the end could not help silently cheering them on, all the while sensing that they must be doomed. (I should mention here that I had no foreknowledge of how the story turns out, which I assume is not the case for many readers of the book these days.) I'm not sure what to make of those who, as a reason for disliking the book, cite Scarlett's silliness/bitchiness/childishness/what-have-you. This is the story of a silly, shallow, utterly self-absorbed woman forced to survive on her own merits in a world completely alien to the one she has known since birth. She is never likable, but what respect she earns from the reader is no less deserved for how grudgingly it is given. (And anyway, I found that whenever Scarlett was getting to be almost too much to take, Rhett would show up and take her down a notch, which was always fun to watch.)

So, should you read this book? That depends. Did you hate Madame Bovary because you didn't happen to like Emma as a person? Do you cringe or scoff when a character talks openly about love -- the kind of naked, shameless, naive love we older folks so naively and patronizingly associate with the teenage years? If you answered yes to either question, then you are unlikely to give Gone with the Wind a fair chance, so I wouldn't bother. (And I don't mean that as condescendingly as it sounds. I wouldn't have given it a fair chance myself if I hadn't read a particularly well-written and compelling essay on Margaret Mitchell that peaked my curiosity. It's contained in the book Passionate Minds, if you're interested.) But if you don't mind, or can overlook, these sorts of things, and you love ambitious, grand stories written passionately, then you are in for a tremendous literary treat. (And if you're at all curious about the South during Reconstruction, or race relations in America, then you'll get a significant bonus.)

In short, I absolutely loved it, and I have no doubt that I will read it again. I now understand why so many people are so devoted to this book, and I only hope I can convince more people to give it a try.