Authorized by the Margaret Mitchell estate, this historical novel takes up the story of Mammy, one of the most beloved minor characters in Gone With the Wind.
McCaig’s (Canaan, 2007, etc.) latest serves as a prequel not only to Mitchell’s classic, but also to his own Rhett Butler’s People (2007). Ruth’s story actually begins with her first mistress’ story. Parisian heiress Solange Escarlette marries Augustin Fornier, the owner of a Caribbean sugar plantation. She soon discovers that her husband is rather ineffectual and that a slave revolt has reduced the prospects of the Sucarie du Jardin. Solange reveals herself to be both unsentimental and savvy. She saves the family’s fortunes; repositions them in Savannah, Georgia; and, rather incidentally, takes a young slave girl into her household. Indeed, Solange is a vivid, vivacious woman whose tale is bewitching, but, alas, we must leave her to see through Ruth’s eyes soon enough. Ruth’s imagined life should be fascinating—rescued from certain death on Saint-Domingue, plunged into the American slave system, and finally positioned as Miss Scarlett’s Mammy—yet McCaig instead simply uses Ruth as a lens through which to view a dramatic swath of history. Events both cataclysmic and quotidian swirl around Ruth—everything from the Haitian revolution and John Brown’s Rebellion to Miss Scarlett's first menstrual period. Yet Ruth’s own manifold troubles pass quickly, presumably to afford more time to her witnessing of events in drawing rooms and dueling fields. Gifted with second sight, Ruth sees mists around people not long for this earthly realm, but more often than not, her talent foreshadows the passings of masters, mistresses and their children.
Ruth laments, “I done lost most them I loved, and most my beloveds die ugly,” but this is the tale of Mammy, not Ruth.