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Getting Mother's Body: A Novel Hardcover – Large Print, May 6, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Like a country quilt, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks's spellbinding first novel, Getting Mother's Body, is pieced together from rags: short and slanted scraps of narrative recounted by various friends and members of the hard-luck Beede clan of Ector County, Texas. These sad, wily, bickering voices tell the story of Billy Beede--poor, unmarried, and pregnant--and her dead mother, the "hot and wild" blues singer, Willa Mae Beede, who may or may not have been laid to rest with a fortune of diamonds and pearls in her coffin. When a letter arrives announcing that a supermarket is being built on the ground where Willa Mae was buried, Billy determines to dig her up and get the jewels. But Willa Mae's embittered female lover, Dill Smiles, is just as intent on keeping the corpse in the ground. Deeper and richer than a typical quest novel, Getting Mother's Body is also the story of an African-American family, of beauty winding like bright thread through long-held grudges, hopelessness, and greed. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Parks, winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog, puts her dramatic skills to good use in this fluid, assured debut novel, the story of a sweaty road trip from Texas to Arizona in July 1963. When stubborn 16-year-old Billy Beede gets knocked up and jilted by her sweet-talking, coffin-salesman lover, she needs money for an abortion. Her wild mother, Willa Mae, died when Billy was 10, and Billy lives with her "childless churchless minister Uncle and one-legged church-hopping Aunt" in a mobile home behind their rural Texas gas station. Billy's only hope for serious cash is to dig up her mother's body from its grave in LaJunta, Ariz., where Willa Mae was buried wearing a diamond ring and a pearl necklace. That, at least, is the story told by Willa Mae's one-time lover, Dill, a six-foot-tall "bulldagger, dyke, lezzy, what-have-you." Billy steals Dill's truck and, together with her aunt and uncle, embarks on a trip to Arizona to find her mother's body, her mother's treasure and her mother's memory. With disgruntled Dill in hot pursuit (chauffeured by Billy's dogged suitor, Laz, misfit son of the local funeral parlor owner), the three travel through the racist Southwest, meeting up with relatives, friends and foes. Parks narrates her brief chapters from the point of view of different characters, giving each a distinctive voice; blues songs are interwoven with the text. Parks's influences are evident-among them Zora Neale Hurston and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying-but the novel's easy grace and infectious rhythms are all her own. Fueled by irresistible, infectious talk and prose that swings like speech, this novel begs (no surprise) to be read aloud.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 257 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140257374X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402573743
  • ASIN: 1400060222
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #786,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on May 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks�s debut novel, Getting Mother�s Body, has an affinity to William Faulkner�s classic, As I Lay Dying, only this time, Parks has flipped the script in a couple of areas. First, instead of taking a body home to be buried, the characters are planning to exhume the remains of one �high-strung, party girl/singer�, Willa Mae Beede; and secondly, the characters are African American, the setting is 1963 rural Texas, and the lead character is Billy Beede, a poor pregnant, unwed, high school dropout.
After her mother�s (Willa Mae) untimely demise, Billy returns to Lincoln by her mother�s lesbian lover, Dill Smiles, to live with her maternal uncle, Roosevelt, and his wife, June, in their trailer behind a gas station. Billy becomes pregnant by a married man and believes an abortion will solve all of her problems. To get the money for the procedure, she plans a journey back to Arizona to recover the small fortune (a pearl necklace and diamond ring) which according to Dill adorns Willa Mae�s corpse. Billy is accompanied by an eccentric cast of characters, each with selfish desires for the treasure, each hoping it will �fill a hole.� These �holes� run deep ranging from pride, envy, debt to lust, unrequited love, childlessness, and spiritual loss. Billy becomes an expert in recognizing �holes,� i.e. finding one�s weaknesses, and uses her �gift� to manipulate her family and strangers to get what she wants�unknowingly becoming more like the con artist mother that she despises.
This novel, told in first person by each lead character, causes the reader to experience the journey from differing viewpoints. Often times, the chapters represent character perspectives of the same event granting the reader the opportunity to �hear� multiple sides of the story.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on July 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Susan-Lori Parks' Getting Mother's Body is an entertaining story of Billy Beede, a pregnant sixteen year old who is convinced that she must travel from Texas to Arizona and dig up her mother's grave to claim the jewels she is buried with. The only problem is, she has no money and no way of getting there. How she gets there, and the people she lies to, cheats on, and cons make up this uproarious read. Parks' novel is narrated by a number of characters, some central, some not and its just a fun, funny read. Parks is certainly creative and a skilled writer. Have fun with this one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Azizi on July 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
Full of gossip and adventure, Getting Mother's Body is the story of a few small-town folks with big dreams. Billy Beede, the daughter of six-years dead Willa Mae Beede finds herself in this novel. Pregnant and given a deadline of one week, Billy needs abortion money fast. Uncle and aunt in tow, they set off on a mission that leads from Texas to Arizona to dig up Willa Mae's body and the rumored treasure that was buried with her. Along the way this sad group of Beedes reminise over the life and tragic death of Willa Mae and how their own lifes have changed over the years. Dill Smiles, Willa Mae's lover, has a secret of her own though, and with murder on her mind sets off hot on Billy's trail.
This book was a really fun read. I enjoyed each and every page. Good authors make their characters real and Parks does this grandly, I could even feel the Arizona heat and Texas dust. Don't browse over this novel. Superb!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 2, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Where my panties at?" are the great opening lines of this wondrous comic novel; but you "aint seen nothing" yet. The critics insist on saying Ms. Parks is influenced here by William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING, something I don't see much of although I did hear her in an interview recently say nice things about Faulkner. Ms. Parks is certainly a classy lady.
And she has written a classy novel. Billy Beede, named after Billie Holiday in spite of the spelling of her first name, is sixteen, unmarried and pregnant. She is joined by a host of other motley characters: Dill Smiles. . . "the most honest person I know, even if she ain't nothing but a bulldagger." Then there's Roosevelt Beede, a minister who no longer preaches; his wife June Flowers Beede, who only has one leg; Laz Jackson, named for Lazarus in the New Testament because he was born not breathing, who wants to marry Billy even though he is not the father of her unborn child--actually he's still a virgin when the novel begins--and of course Willa Mae Beede, Billy's mother and Dill's former lover, who is now in her grave and may have been buried with previous gems. There are several other minor characters, just as interesting, not the least of which is Homer Beede Rochfoucault, the son of a Morehouse man and a Spelman graduate. There's also a sympathetic white deputy sheriff, someone we might not expect to find in 1963, the year this novel takes place.
Told from several points of view-- perhaps the writer is influenced by Faulkner after all-- the novel ultimately is about the importance of family. These characters-- most of them either dirt poor or, in the case of Homer and his mother, people who have suffered a reversal of fortune-- are as strong as the state of Texas. Like Faulkner's Dilsey in THE SOUND AND THE FURY, they endure.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By KH1 VINE VOICE on November 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Getting Mother's Body tells the story of Billy Beade and her family and friends on a road trip to dig up the treasure buried with Billy's mother Willa Mae. Each is equally desperate for the money from the treasure, but all for different reasons. The story was exciting, hardly ever predictable, and intelligent.

Lately, I've been tired of picking up novels that seemed interesting, only to find wooden characters, well-worn plot devices, and cliched dialogue. Not here. Ms. Parks has created a stunning cast of characters, each beautifully developed to the perfect degree to fit the plot, no more, no less. The story is written from Mulitple view points, each providing a small glimpse at the larger picture of the story. For this novel, however, the whole is greater than the some of it's parts - each point of view provides enough of the plot that the reader can synthesize them into a whole. This is a novel for a reader who doesn't want everything handed to them on the page, who enjoys synthesizing information to come to thier own conclusions. I have recommended this novel to many friends and family with much success. highly recommended.
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