Synopses & Reviews
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.
"[A] straightforward, light-footed novel with none of the bleak, doomy undertones of Faulkner's; it's just about as funny and not nearly as scary....Parks brings a dramatist's skills to her fiction, and they are nothing to sneeze at." Laura Miller, The New York Times Book Review
"Parks offers a collection of exuberantly loony characters, longing for better lives and a means of realizing their meager dreams....[A] thoroughly riveting novel of love, family, and redemption." Vanessa Bush, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Parks...puts her dramatic skills to good use in this fluid, assured debut novel....Fueled by irresistible, infectious talk and prose that swings like speech, this novel begs (no surprise) to be read aloud." Publishers Weekly
"More conventional in form and less excitingly engaged with American history than her plays, but good enough to cause hope that more may come." Kirkus Reviews
"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." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"With a playwright's ear, a novelist's eye, and a passionate appreciation for the complex magic of everyday women, Suzan-Lori Parks spins a story whose characters are as mysterious and sexy as lace curtains billowing at the bedroom window." Pearl Cleage, author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
"Parks...has ably transferred her talent for character and dialog from the stage to the pages of her first novel....Parks lets the reader travel along as a welcome passenger as Billy and her family journey...to an unexpected treasure." Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parkss wildly original debut novel, Getting Mothers Body, follows pregnant, unmarried Billy Beede and her down-and-out family in 1960s Texas as they search for the storied jewels buried—or were they?—with Billys fast-running, six-years-dead mother, Willa Mae. Getting Mothers Body is a true spiritual successor to the work of writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker—but when it comes to bringing hard-luck characters to ingenious, uproarious life, Suzan-Lori Parks shares the stage with no one.
About the Author
Suzan-Lori Parks is a novelist, playwright, songwriter, and screenwriter. She was the recipient of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Topdog/ Underdog, as well as a 2001 MacArthur “genius grant.” Her other plays include Fucking A, In the Blood, The America Play, Venus, and The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World. Her first feature film, Girl 6, was directed by Spike Lee. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she studied with James Baldwin, she has taught creative writing in universities across the country, including at the Yale School of Drama, and she heads the Dramatic Writing Program at CalArts. She is currently writing an adaptation of Toni Morrisons novel Paradise for Oprah Winfrey, and the musical Hoopz for Disney. She lives in Venice Beach, California, with her husband, blues musician Paul Scher, and their pit bull, Lambchop.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Reviewers have compared Getting Mothers Body
to William Faulkners 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 Parkss 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 regarded Willa Mae in comparison to how they view her daughter.
4. On page 31, Willa Mae relays her views on human weakness with her hole analogy. Do you agree with what her philosophy? Are there certain people in your life who demonstrate this Achilles heel?
5. In the 1960s, homosexuality wasnt a widely accepted trait. How does Parks portray Dills sexuality throughout the novel? Why is it virtually accepted in this particular Texan town?
6. Willa Maes songs are interspersed throughout the characters monologues. What function do they serve? Why do you think this novel is structured the way it is (in the form of monologues)?
7. Willa Mae and Dill clearly had a volatile relationship that involved betrayal and violence. What attracted Dill to Willa Mae in the first place? How do you think Dill felt about Willa Mae by the time she died?
8. Despite their differences in class, the Rochfoucaults and the Beedes clearly have ties to each other. How is the bond of family treated in this novel? Are Homers motives only fueled by material greed?
9. What attracts Homer to Billy? Is she appealing in the same way Willa Mae was to men when she was young? How does Billy use her sexuality to manipulate?
10. How is abortion regarded in Getting Mothers Body? Do you think it would be viewed differently if it were someone other than Billy who wanted one?
11. On page 81, Mrs. Jackson remarks that “Billys got that Beede luck, bless her heart.” What is she referring to? Do you think the Beedes are ultimately lucky? Is their eventfullroad trip ultimately redeemed?
12. Suzan-Lori Parks is a Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama-Getting Mothers Body is her first novel. Is her experience as a playwright evident in the language of the novel? Does Parkss writing style obviously differ from someone who exclusively writes novels? How would you envision this novel on stage?
From the Hardcover edition.
Review A Day
"Getting Mother's Body
will bring some much needed fun to PC reading lists. But it has something deeper going for it, buried under all that style. Parks has imagined a cast of characters that are perverse, desperate, hilarious, and truly original." Anna Godsbersen, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review