Getting Mother's Body
by Suzan-Lori Parks
The Lesbian, The Car Chase, and the One-Legged Aunt
A review by Anna Godsbersen
Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Topdog/Underdog has written a debut novel full of punchy lines and outrageous situations. She introduces her heroine, Billy Beede, in the backseat of a Ford, her head against the door, her panties stolen, being made less-than-satisfying love to by a custom coffin maker, and pregnant. Besides which, it's 1963 and she's sixteen, black, and unmarried in rural Lincoln, Texas.
The macabre slapstick of this opening tableau is typical of Parks's style; the writing is lean, the themes heavy. The body of Billy's mother, Willa Mae, propels the plot. Sexy, manipulative and six years dead, Willa Mae is said to have been buried with a cache of jewels. When Billy realizes that the custom coffin maker isn't going to make her honest (this is for the best what kind of man makes "pharoah-style" coffins?), she decides to travel to her mother's grave, disinter her body and use the jewels to fund a safe abortion. She steals a truck from Willa Mae's former lesbian lover and an interstate car chase ensues. These events are told in a rotating series of voices, including that of Willa Mae, the lesbian lover, Billy's one-legged aunt, and others. These monologues are similar in their flat tone, their deadpan revelations, suggesting the singularity of a wide range of characters.
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.
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