The debut novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is a gutsy, funny, tragic and completely original work for fans of William Faulkner and Alice Walker. In the 1950s, in a small southern town in the US, the Beedes are the lowest of the low. Always struggling, they remain shackled by poverty and their own lack of ambition. ...
The debut novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is a gutsy, funny, tragic and completely original work for fans of William Faulkner and Alice Walker. In the 1950s, in a small southern town in the US, the Beedes are the lowest of the low. Always struggling, they remain shackled by poverty and their own lack of ambition. Everyone, but sixteen-year-old Billie Beede. Billy Beede has big ideas about her life. She's had the Beede misfortune to get pregnant by an itinerant coffin salesman. And when he proves to have a wife and seven kids in another town, she determines to try her luck elsewhere. The answer seems to be in the hem of her mother's dress, her mother who died ten years ago. The rumour is that Willa Mae - a Billie Holiday look-alike - was the only Beede who made good, and was buried with a pearl necklace and a diamond ring sewn into the hem of her dress. Billie - and all her relatives - aim to get their hands on this treasure and make something of themselves. What follows is a mad road trip that evokes shades of Faulkner - in its potent earthiness - but also has the approachability and warmth of novels like The Colour Purple. This is a fantastic debut novel from an accomplished and well-loved American playwright.
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Getting Mother's Body along with ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere are two of the freshest, most exciting works of African American fiction that I have come across in years. They're also two of the best books I've bought this year. Both books (Packer's is a collection of short stories) eschews the common girlfriends/black-men-are-no-good themes of most comtemporary black writers like McMillan and shy away from more cerebral and metaphorical themes like Morrison or Walker. Instead this is straight forward fiction meant to entertian that just so happens to have black main characters. Getting Mother's Body, like McMillan's Day Late and a Dollar Short, is told from the POV of several characters with the purposeful use of bad grammar. Although some grammatical purists may find it difficult to get into the novel for that reason, I felt it lent an honest and real voice to the characters. Not everyone says "are not" instead of "ain't" or "going to" instead of "gonna". Personally, I found the purposeful use of bad grammar more difficlut to follow in McMillan's Day Late... than Getting Mother's Body. I won't go into the particulars of the novel as so many others have. What I will say is that this is a breezy, fast and fun read. Parks is a vivid storyteller and her images scroll across your mind like a well paced movie. Pick this up and see for yourself. Pure, unadulterated fun.
Jun 1, 2007
A play in novel form
Really reads like a play. Close your eyes and imagine each chapter/speaker standing on stage bathed in a spotlight, while the remaining characters share the stage unlit. Up light, down light, up light and so on. Interesting characters, mostly predictable plot turns, but not dull. I thought it was a quick read, but don't try it in multiple sittings. Really best read in a few large chunks.
Publishers Weekly, 2003-05-19 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. (May) Forecast: Few playwrights enjoy the kind of success Parks has at such a young age (she was born in 1964), and few make such a seamless transition to fiction. Her reputation and the quality of this novel should fuel impressive sales. 8-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly, 2003-06-02 With credentials including the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Topdog/Underdog) and a feature film directed by Spike Lee (Girl 6), Parks makes an impressive foray into fiction writing. This superbly recorded audio adaptation of her debut, replete with instrumental interludes and blues songs sung by the author (who's also a songwriter), is further enlivened by Parks's own compelling, unabridged reading. Her voice is clearly invested in the book's downtrodden African-American characters, and she portrays their grim realities with indelible humor. Pregnant Texas teenager Billy Beede has been raised for the past six years by her aunt and uncle in a mobile home following the death of her conniving mother, Willa Mae, from a botched abortion. Billy gets the disconcerting news her mom's remains must be moved for construction of a shopping center, and Willa Mae is rumored to have been buried with a fortune in jewels. Billy's just discovered she's inherited her mom's knack for seeing "the hole," or blind spot that lets you get what you want in people, so she sets off for the Arizona grave site. Set in the summer of 1963, and recounted in a slow, Southern drawl befitting the mood, the story unravels from a myriad of viewpoints, including the no-good custom coffin salesman who's fathered Billy's unborn baby, the one-legged neighbor in love with Billy, and her deceased mother's feisty lesbian lover. Simultaneous release with the Random hardcover (Forecasts, May 19). (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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