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.
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About the Author
Hometown:Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:May 10, 1963
Place of Birth:Fort Knox, Kentucky
Education:B.A., Mt. Holyoke College, 1985
Read an Excerpt
“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 rubs my titty, moving his hand in a quick circle like he’s polishing it. I try scootching down along the seat, away from the door, but when I scootch, Snipes’ going at it scootches me right back up against the door handle again. I wonder if my baby’s sitting in me upside down and if Snipes’ thing is hitting it on its head like the door handle is hitting me on mines.
“Ow,” I go. Cause now my head hurts.
“Owww,” Snipes go. Cause he’s through.
He lays there for a minute then pulls himself out of me and gets out the car. He closes up his pants while he looks down the road. Zipper then belt. In my head I can see all the little seeds he just sowed in me.All them little Snipeses running up inside me looking for somewheres to plant. But there’s a baby up in me already, a Baby Snipes. Baby Snipes knocks down the Little Snipes Seeds as fast as they come up.
“How you doing?” Snipes asks.
I turn from my side onto my back, raising up on both elbows. My housedress is all open and the baby makes a hump. Snipes turns to look at me, his gold-colored eyes staying on mines, seeing the hump without really seeing it. He ducks into the front seat, getting his Chesterfields out his shirt pocket, and standing there with his back to me, smoking in just his undershirt.
“Penny for yr thoughts,” I go but he don’t turn around or say nothing. I sit up, buckling my bra and taking a look around for my panties, first in the front seat then running my hand between the backseat and the seat back, thinking my panties mighta got stuck in between but not finding nothing. Then I do feel a scrap of something and give it a yank. Big red shiny drawers. Not mines. Snipes turns around and sees me holding them.
“My sister’s,” he says smiling and putting on his shirt. “I let her use my car sometimes.”
I stuff the drawers back where I found them, first leaving a little red tail sticking out, then stuffing them back in all the way.
“I didn’t know you had no sister,” I says. “I don’t know nothing about you.”
“Whatchu need to know?” he says.
“What’s her name?”
“Alberta,” he says. Then he turns away showing me the side of his face, shaved clean and right-angled as my elbow. He’s smiling hard, but not at me.
“Clifton, can I ask you something else?”
“I’ll get you some more panties, girl, don’t worry,” he says.
An hour ago, when Snipes came to get me, I was doing Aunt June’s hair. I heard his whistle. He weren’t stopped at the pumps. He was stopped across the road, standing against his car looking cool, waiting for me to come outside but waiting cool, just in case I didn’t show. I seen him and run across the road without even looking to see if cars was coming and he picked me up and swirled me around. Just like Harry Belafonte woulda.
“You ain’t been around in almost a month,” I said, breathless from the swirling.
“I been working, girl,” he said. He got a custom-coffin business. He makes and sells handmade coffins in any shape you want with plush lining inside and everything. While we drove he showed me his sample book with three new photographs, proud, like folks show pictures of they children. A oak Cadillac, a guitar of cherry wood, and a pharaoh-style one too, all big enough to get buried inside, the new ones not painted yet so folks can pick out they own colors.
“People been talking,” I said.
“What they saying?”
“Stuff,” I said. “They saying stuff.” We kissed as we drove down the road and then I started laughing cause he was tickling me and getting me undressed and showing me his sample book and driving all at the same time. His left hand on the wheel, his right hand between my legs. Then we pulled off the road. Then we did it. Now we done.
“I’ll get you a whole damn carload full of panties, girl,” he says. “Them panties you had on is probably along the side of the road somewhere between here and Lincoln.” He smiles and I smile with him. I remember taking them off. The wind was whipping and musta whipped them out the window while we drove. But that was an hour ago.
Now I look down the road, seeing if I can see them. I see somebody down there walking in the dirt and the shimmer from the heat.
“I don’t wanna go home without no panties,” I says.
“You worry too much,” Snipes says.
All the car doors are open and the wind goes through, drying the sweat off the seats.
“I gotta know something,” I says.
“The man’s supposed to ask the girl,” I whisper.
He don’t speak.
We been together since March. Now it’s July. I wanna give him a chance to ask me.
“You said I wouldn’t get bigged the first time we did it,” I says.
“Was our first time your first time?” he says.
“You gonna marry me or what?” I says. The words come out too loud.
He don’t speak. He cuts on the radio but it don’t work when the car ain’t running. He gets out, closing the back two doors, leaving mines open and getting back behind the wheel.
“Sure I’m gonna marry you,” he says at last. “You my treasure. You think I don’t wanna marry my treasure?”
“People are talking,” I says.
“They just jealous,” he says and we both laugh. “Billy Beede got herself a good-looking man and they all jealous.”
When we quit laughing we sit there quiet.
“You my treasure, girl,” he says. “You my treasure, capital T, make no mistake.”
“I’m five months gone,” I says. Too loud again.
He wraps his fingers tight around the wheel. I want him to look at me but he don’t.
Someone comes up, stopping a foot or two from the car to stare at us openmouthed. It’s Laz. He got his wool cap down around his ears and his plaid shirt buttoned to the chin.
“You want yr ass kicked?” Snipes asks him.
“Not today,” Laz says.
“You don’t stop looking at me and my woman, I’ma kick yr black ass,” Snipes says.
Laz looks at the ground.
“You don’t get the hell outa here, I’ma kill you,” Snipes says.
“Being dead don’t bother me none,” Laz says. He got a bold voice but he ain’t looking up from the ground.
Snipes jumps out the car and they stand there toe to toe. Everything Snipes got is better than everything Laz got.
“Go the hell home, Laz,” I says and he turns and goes. Snipes throws a rock and Laz runs.
“Goddamn boot-black-wool-hat-wearing-four-eyed nigger probably wanted to see us doing it,” Snipes goes, getting back in the car and laughing and holding my hand. “Peeping and creeping boot-black-winter-hat nigger.”
“Laz is just Laz,” I says.
“His daddy runs the funeral home but Laz ain’t never gonna be running shit,” Snipes says, laughing hard and squeezing my hand to get me to laugh too and I laugh till his squeezing hurts and I make him let go.
“Today’s Wednesday, ain’t it?” Snipes says. He looks down the road, seeing his upcoming appointments in his head. “I’m free towards the end of the week. Let’s get married on Friday.”
“Friday’s the day,” he says, taking out his billfold. He peeks the money part open with his pointer and thumb, then he feathers the bills, counting. His one eyebrow lifts up, surprised.
“That’s what you call significant,” he says.
“What year is it?”
“And here I got sixty-three dollars in my billfold,” he says smiling.
He pinches the bills out, folding them single-handed. He reaches over to me, lifting my housedress away from my brassiere and tucking the sixty-three dollars down between my breasts.
“Get yrself a wedding dress and some shoes and a one-way bus ticket.”
“I’ma go to Jackson’s Formal.”
“Get something pretty. Come up to Texhoma tomorrow. We can do it Friday.”
“You gonna get down on yr knee and ask me?”
“You come up tomorrow and I’ll get down on my knee in front of my sister and her kids and ask you to marry me. Hell, I’ll get down on both knees. Then we can do it Friday.”
“How bout today you meet Aunt June and Uncle Teddy?” I says.
“Today I gotta go to Midland,” he says.
“It’ll only take a minute.”
“I don’t got a minute,” he says. He looks at me. He got lips like pillows. “Have em come to Texhoma Friday. They can watch us get married. I’ll meet em then.”
“When they come up you gotta ask me to marry you on yr knees in front of them too,” I says. “They’d feel left out if they didn’t see it since you’ll be asking me in front of yr sister and her kids and yr mother and dad—”
“My mother and dad won’t be making it,” Snipes says.
“They’s passed,” he says. He starts up the car, turning it around neatly and pulling it into the road, heading back towards Lincoln. On Friday my new name will be Mrs. Clifton Snipes.
“I was ten when Willa Mae passed,” I says.
“Willa Mae who?”
“Willa Mae Beede. My mother,” I says.
Snipes takes his hand off the wheel to scratch his crotch. His foot is light on the gas pedal. There’s a story about my mother. All these months I been seeing Snipes, I didn’t know whether or not he’d heard it. Now I can tell he has.
Reading Group Guide
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 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 Achille’s heel?
5. In the 1960s, homosexuality wasn’t a widely accepted trait. How does Parks portray Dill’s sexuality throughout the novel? Why is it virtually accepted in this particular Texan town?
6. Willa Mae’s 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 Homer’s 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 Mother’s 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 “Billy’s 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 Mother’s Body is her first novel. Is her experience as a playwright evident in the language of the novel? Does Parks’s writing style obviously differ from someone who exclusively writes novels? How would you envision this novel on stage?
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. It is one of the best books I have read in along time. The story is so interesting and I loved the characters. I look forward to Ms. Parks next novel.
I didn't care about any of the characters.
I've never read anything by this author. The book jacket says she wonthe Pulitzer Prize for playwriters in 2002 for her play "TopDog/Underdog." I've never heard of it, either, so the only thing thatmade me pick this one up was the title.This is the story of a quest for buried treasure, set in 1963. WillaMae Beede was as fast as a race car when she was alive, going from loverto lover, doing whatever she felt like doing. She died after a badabortion, while her 10 year old daughter, Billy, looked on from thecorner of the room, hating her mother with everything she had in her.Willa Mae was buried in LaJunta, Arizona, by her lover Dill Smiles, inDill's mother's back yard, and she was buried with her most prizedpossessions, her diamond ring and her pearls.Six years later, Billy is living with her Aunt June and Uncle Rooseveltin a tiny trailer behind the gas station her Uncle runs in Lincoln,Texas. One day a letter arrives, telling Billy that her mother'sresting place is about to be plowed up and paved over to make a parkinglot for a new supermarket. Dirt poor and pregnant with an illegitimatechild, Billy knows that treasure is the only hope she has in this world,so she sets her mind to go to LaJunta, dig up her mother, and get thejewels. So, she steals Dill Smiles' pickup truck, talks her aunt anduncle into going with her, and heads for Arizona, with Dill in hotpursuit. Along the way, we meet some other members of the Beede familywho live between Texas and Arizona and the travelers stop to visit, eat,wash up and move on, with one of the family members in tow.This book is written entirely in the first person, with each chapterfrom another person's point of view. It's written in the vernacular,exactly as the people themselves would talk. Every character in thebook is black and Parks really captures the feeling of poor black peopleliving in the south in the early 1960s.I found this book pretty entertaining, but hardly engrossing. A coupleof plot twists along the way and a conclusion you aren't led to expectat the end. It was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed it. A pleasantway to pass a couple of summer afternoons.
Five months pregnant, Billy Beede heads up to Texhoma, Texas, to marry her fiance, Clifton Snipes, who designs individualized caskets for a living, Unfortunately, upon her arrival in Texhoma, Billy discovers Snipes' wife with baby #7 on the way.
Good little novel set in 1963 Texas. Pregnant girl sets out to recover the rumored treasure that is said to be buried with her mother. Story unfolds through short vignetted told from the different vignettes told from the different characters perspectives. Good quick read
Interesting portrayal of life of black family in the south in the 60's. Written from many points of view, which was sometimes difficult to keep in mind, but did add interest to the story. Motives of characters sometimes difficult for me to understand.
This is a funny story and a fast read!
This book was really good!! A quick read. The story is told from several different prespectives. I would highly recomend this book.
Parks' daunting theatre credits assured me that I would love this book. Although at times the narrative is surprisingly Morrison-esque with the pleasant tones of Faulkner I found it an enjoyable read and entertaining story. Not the most original of it's kind but promises to bring more good things from it's author.
Everyone appeared to be dimwitted most times, but in actuality, they all had a smart purpose for 'getting mother's body'. I enjoyed it from beginning to end.
Getting Mother¿s Body was an interesting read it did not hold my attention like I thought it would based on the reviews. The way Parker shapes each character through a first-person narrative gave you an in depth feel of each character, but I still felt a lack of love for the characters.
A breezy fun read. AS I LAY DYING is one of my favorite books. But this is much more fun.
This was fast-paced and funny most of the time. Parks is skilled at putting the reader right there in Texas. Some of the characters' voices occasionally seemed the same but this did not disctract too much from the plot. Ah, and a story with a happy ending - so rare these days!
The reason this book is so enjoyable,is because you are thrown into a dramatic story line straight away.You dont have to read a thousand chapters to understand what is going on, which for me hightend the excitement and made me want to read on until the very end.The way in which the book is written is, I think, very clever and something I have not seen in other books I have read.I like the way you get to know about all the characters on a personal level very early on in the story because it helps you appreciate the story more.The storyline flows so easily from page to page making it very hard to put down. All in all a very delightful and enjoyable read.