Book Review: Getting Mother’s Body – by Suzan-Lori Parks

Last summer I am at a conference in Boston. I am staying at The Charles Hotel on Harvard Square. The evening I get there I walk up toward the college for a bite to eat, looking for the newsstand where Bill Gates, in January of 1975, saw the infamous issue of Popular Mechanics with the picture of the home computer kit on the cover. I find some pizza, and eventually head back to the hotel around 10 o’clock at night.  It’s muggy outside and I am sweating. In the chilled lobby, under a staircase that leads to the conference floor, I find a long wall with built-in bookshelves, stocked with seemingly endless volumes of books.

I walk up to the shelves and I grab a random hardcover at eye level, slouch in one of the chairs, open up to chapter 1, titled “Billy Beede” and start reading:

“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 say 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.

How can I stop reading after that? I learned early when studying creative writing that you must capture the reader in the first few paragraphs. Suzan-Lori Parks does a phenomenal job capturing me. Since I don’t have the time to read this book during my stay at the The Charles, I turn it over and memorize the title and the author of the book. I am astonished that it’s a 2003 copyright. The book looks older and feels older.

A few days later, I get home, and I find the book used on Amazon. I buy it for a few dollars. I put it on My Reading Shelf, where it sits until a couple of weeks ago.

Getting Mother’s Body is a delightful little book of 257 pages, telling the story of a black extended family in Southern Texas through the eyes and words of its members. Billy Beede is the main character. Her mom was Willa Mae Beede, who died six years before the story starts. Willa Mae had lots of men, and one woman, Dill Smiles, a railthin and very tall black woman who is often mistaken for a man. As a matter of fact, it apparently takes Willa Mae quite a long time of sleeping and ‘having relations’ with Dill before she reaches down in the dark and finds out just what kind of man she actually is. As she says:

There ain’t nothing normal when it comes to Men and Relations. Dill liked the lights off and the clothes on.

The story reads like a play, since every word is “told” by one of the characters. You can just see them sitting on a stage, reading from a scipt, narrating the story while actors, including themselves, play it. The characters are deeply developed. You get to know each one of them. After about 50 pages, you want to start over again, because you finally figure out what it’s all about and you realize you missed some detail you want to catch up on.

It’s the kind of book that is written with so much color and spunk, you will want to read it out loud to someone, so you can share it. It’s too good to be enjoyed alone.

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