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A Novel

Written by Suzan-Lori ParksAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Suzan-Lori Parks



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On Sale: May 06, 2003
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-300-8
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fiction (41) african american (10) texas (8) novel (7) family (5) humor (4)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks’s wildly original debut novel, Getting Mother’s 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 Billy’s fast-running, six-years-dead mother, Willa Mae. Getting Mother’s 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.

Excerpt

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 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.

“Mmokay.”

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?”

“Who?”

“Yr sister.”

“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.

“Whut?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.

“Significant?”

“What year is it?”

“ ’Sixty-three.”

“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.

“How come?”

“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.


From the Hardcover edition.
Suzan-Lori Parks

About Suzan-Lori Parks

Suzan-Lori Parks - Getting Mother's Body
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 Morrison’s 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.
Praise

Praise

“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.”
—Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls

“A cheerful tack across deep Faulknerian waters.”
The New York Times Book Review

“The kind of story that sneaks up on you and makes you care about the characters and what happens to them.”
USA Today


“Even minor characters are vivid and unforgettable. . . . [The] chorus of voices . . . tells the interwoven story of Willa Mae and her daughter with such flair and harmony that I was compelled to keep reading.”
—The Washington Post


“Of course Suzan-Lori Parks can write a mean patch of dialogue . . . but the real treat here is watching Parks experiment with setting. . . . [She is] a master of pitch and mood.”
Entertainment Weekly

“With material steeped in the dark side of American history and a rare gift for the vernacular, [Parks is] the sort of provocateur one might get by crossing William Faulkner with Richard Pryor. . . . Parks’s dialogue rings ribald and jazzy.”
Vogue

A splendid and joyous American novel.”
Elle

“There’s jazz and spunk in the writing here, tremendous humor that ultimately yields to tenderness.”
Book magazine
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

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.

  • Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks
  • April 13, 2004
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • $15.00
  • 9780812968002

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