Summary and book reviews of Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks

Getting Mother's Body

By Suzan-Lori Parks

Getting Mother's Body
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  • Hardcover: May 2003,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2004,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

Billy Beede, the teenage daughter of the fast-running, no-account, and six-years-dead Willa Mae, comes home one day to find a fateful letter waiting for her: Willa Mae's burial spot in LaJunta, Arizona, is about to be plowed up to make way for a supermarket.

As Willa Mae's only daughter, Billy is heiress to her mother's substantial but unconfirmed fortune—a cache of jewels that Willa Mae's lover, Dill Smiles, is said to have buried with her. Dirt poor, living in a trailer with her Aunt June and Uncle Roosevelt behind a gas station in a tumbleweedy Texas town, and pregnant with an illegitimate child, Billy knows that treasure could mean salvation. So she steals Dill's pickup truck and, with her aunt and uncle in tow, heads for Arizona with Dill in hot pursuit. While everyone agrees it's only polite to speak of getting mother's body and moving her to a proper resting place, it's well understood that digging up Willa Mae's diamonds and pearls will make the whole trip a lot more worthwhile.

The enormously accomplished fiction debut from Suzan-Lori Parks, the 2002 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Getting Mother's Body takes its place in the company of the classic works of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker. But when it comes to an ingenious, uproarious knack for depicting the trifling, hard-luck, down-and-out souls who need a little singing and laughing and lying and praying to get through the day, Suzan-Lori Parks shares the stage with no one.

BILLY BEEDE

"Where my panties at?" I asks him.

Snipes don't say nothing. He don't like to talk when he's in the middle of it.

"I think I lost my panties," I says but Snipes ain't hearing. He got his eyes closed, his mouth smiling, his face wet with sweat. In the middle of it, up there on top of me, going in and out. Not on top of me really, more like on top of the side of me cause he didn't want my baby-belly getting in his way. He didn't say so, he ain't said nothing bout the baby yet, but I seen him looking at my belly and I know he's thinking about it, somewhere in his mind. We're in the backseat of his Galaxie. A Ford. Bright lemon colored outside, inside the color of new butter. My head taps against the door handle as he goes at it.

"Huh. Huh. Huh," Snipes goes.

In a minute my head's gonna hurt. But it don't hurt yet.

"Where—" I go but he draws his finger down over my lips, hushing them so I don't finish, then he...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Reviewers have compared Getting Mother's Body to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. How do these novels compare? Do you think Parks set out to achieve the same goal that Faulkner had in mind when he wrote As I Lay Dying?

  2. Billy Beede is one of Parks's spunkiest characters, and clearly has brains and a strong will. Why then, is she interested in someone like Snipes? Discuss the ways in which she seems older than her years, and the instances where she shows her naïveté.

  3. Why does Billy refer to her mother as "Willa Mae"? How do you think Billy regarded her mother when she was alive? Do you see similarities between Billy and Willa Mae–does Billy represent an extension of her mother? Discuss how the town ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times Sunday Book Review - Laura Miller

... a straightforward, light-footed novel with none of the bleak, doomy undertones [of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying]; it's just about as funny and not nearly as scary.

The New York Times - Michiku Kakutani

In recounting their stories, Ms. Parks has written a convincing if modest book that suggests her future as a novelist may be as bright as her career in the theater.

The Washington Post - Susan Straight

Though I've read countless novels, I had never read one like this ... told in a chorus of completely unexpected voices, as befits the first novel from a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter.

Kirkus Reviews - Jennifer Rudolph Walsh/William Morris

More conventional in form and less excitingly engaged with American history than her plays, but good enough to cause hope that more may come.

Publishers Weekly

Fueled by irresistible, infectious talk and prose that swings like speech, this novel begs (no surprise) to be read aloud.

Library Journal

Parks ... has ably transferred her talent for character and dialog from the stage to the pages of her first novel, a series of monologs by a close-knit group of characters.

The Los Angeles Times - Michael Harris

… a trip well worth taking.

Author Blurb Pearl Cleage - author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
... a story whose characters are as mysterious and sexy as lace curtains billowing at the bedroom window.

Author Blurb Richard Russo - author of Empire Falls
Suzan-Lori Parks is a terrific writer whose characters don't so much talk to us as sing, full-throated, of their joys and miseries.

Reader Reviews
JJ

A wonderfully entertaining read. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a central or supporting character, all of whom are quirky and unconventional. You soon learn whether or not the jewels are buried with Billy's mother, or do you? ...   Read More

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