Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Mother’s Body by Susan Lori Parks

This book is similar to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in that both are set in the South. Both involve traveling, one to bury the mother, the other to dig her up and transplant her. The family members have ulterior motives. The Bundren father wants to get teeth and find a new wife. The Beedes want to get the fortune that is rumored to be buried with Willa Mae, pearls and a ring. Both young daughters seek abortions. Both stories are told by different characters taking turns as narrators.

Billy Beede is pregnant by a coffin salesman who turns out to be married. She adapts to her situation by manipulating people, a skill she learned from her mother. She survives by taking control of her situation.

Billy refers to her mother as Willa Mae, because she was raised mostly by her aunt and uncle. She recalls her mother swindling people and getting thrown in jail. Willa Mae recognized peoples’ vulnerabilities as holes and knew how to exploit them. Billy is both an extension of her mother and her own person. In the end, Billy settles down, but her mother never did.

The characters and their circumstances are frustrating, but in the end, one steps forward to do the right thing and all ends well.


Amanda said...

So was this supposed to be a spin-off or redo of Faulkner or was it just something you happened to notice? There seems to be an awful lot of similarities for it to be accidental.

Amanda said...

Have you read As I Lay Dying, John? If so, did it feel like this was a ripoff or a clever reworking?

Amber said...

Now this sounds like just the kind of good wierd I like.

I read Dying in grad school, and enjoyed it immensely. It opened my eyes to a whole new narrative style; I admired how Faulkner stepped out of the box so completely.

I don't mind authors borrowing or being influenced, so long as they admit it.

I'll have to see if my pitiful local library has this.

Booger said...

From Parks admits to being captivated by Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying, a work told through multiple points of view. Getting Mother's Body uses a similar technique as well as some of Faulkner's other structural and plot devices. Just as Faulkner's tale is one of travel (the family is returning mother's dead body to Jefferson County for burial), so is Parks's (Billy Beede, with the help of her friends and relatives, must travel to Arizona to exhume her mother's body before her burial site is destroyed by a new shopping center complex). In Faulkner's book, the mother speaks from her coffin; the same is true in Parks's novel, only in this instance, the mother, Willa Mae Beede, sings her thoughts since she had been a blues singer in life. As in the Faulkner original, the voices of the characters in Parks's novel are clear and distinct, capturing the essence and variability of multiple narrations that Faulkner introduced.
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Amanda said...

As I Lay Dying was the first lit book that I read that reopened my eyes when it came to books. It influenced a lot of my tastes in classics. It wasn't until about 5 years later that I began to read for pleasure again, but Dying really planted the seeds for me.

Booger said...

I have not read As I Lay dying. I started The Sound And The Fury, but never finished it. I did like his short story, A Rose For Emily.

Amanda said...

As I Lay Dying is ten times better than The Sound & the Fury. It's easier to understand, too. Still difficult, but easier.

Booger said...

I'll probably try some more of his short stories first. The time when Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald wrote was a good one for short stories. Saturday Evening Post was publishing then.