Play It as It Lays

Play It as It Lays

A Novel

Paperback - 2005
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A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Joan Didion's Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil---literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul---it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
Edition: Pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9780374529949
Characteristics: xvii, 213 p. ; 21 cm.


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Top Picks: Joan Didion

Legendary journalist, memoirist and novelist Joan Didion turns 85 on December 4. In honor of her wide-ranging career, here are some top picks of her most ground-breaking work.  Born in Sacramento, California, Didion frequently moved around as a young child as her father served in the Army Air Corps and therefore she did not attend school on a regular basis.  Instead Didion recalls spending… (more)

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May 10, 2020

"Play It As It Lays" by Joan Didion tells the story of Maria. She is beautiful. She is a former model. She has had a moderately successful acting career. She is the wife of a successful movie director. She is sinking into depression.

Her situation is driven by an unhappy marriage, a series of meaningless sexual encounters, an abortion, an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs, and an institutionalized daughter.

In a stream-of-consciousness narrative - told in the present and in flashbacks - Didion takes us inside Maria's head as she stumbles through months of self-destructive behavior.

Maria has no direction in her life; her nihilism is symbolized by her habit of hopping into an expensive car and speeding through the highways of Los Angeles. She is surrounded by the decadence and opulence of the 1960s Hollywood inner circle, but she is disconnected from it.

It's an emotional ride. I started reading in the evening and stayed up half the night to finish it.

Aug 05, 2019

"I know what 'nothing' means, and keep on playing."
Joan Didion's second novel, from 1970, is a corrosive and corroded X-ray of Hollywood. While Didion was born in California and wrote extensively about the state, she also seemed to have a mild contempt for it, as many people reflexively do. Criticizing the shallowness and destructiveness of a group of actors, directors, and agents seems, well, a little shallow in itself, although it's an impressive tradition that includes "Day of the Locust," "The Last Tycoon," and "The Deer Park." Call it the L.A. wasteland novel. Didion was a great essayist who was not an especially great novelist, even if the prose here is taut and economical. I think it's her clear contempt for all her characters that is rather off-putting and a little disingenuous, considering that she wrote a few screenplays. She's also overly fond of a certain slur for gay people. Check out the recent documentary on Netflix, "The Center Will Not Hold." It was directed by her nephew.

Feb 06, 2019

Hills Like White Elephants, 1968. It's probably more like a 3 or a 3 1/2 star book, but when it's good, it's really good. It's never bad, but there is a hip disconnectedness at times that is either artistic messiness or 1970s prescience. I'm leaning strongly toward the latter.

Jul 05, 2018

Maria seems to be suffering from an existential crisis for most of her life and also seems to be enduring untreated depression that was triggered when her mother died. She never seemed to really get over that, but it was the beginning of many tragedies in her life. Set in the late 1960s, she is an actress married to a successful Hollywood producer. They have a young daughter that is in a mental institution and they do not seem happy. No one has any sympathy for Maria. She doesn't have any sympathy for herself either. She accepts that life is crap and there is nothing you can do to change it. The only time she ever has any control is when she gets on the freeway and drives out into the desert.

I loved this book, but I am not sure why. The writing was sparse, but Didion said so much with so little. I could completely see how this book would drive many people insane and many people probably want nothing to do with Maria, but I found her so interesting. I like reading about real women with real problems, so maybe that is why I liked it. There is nothing pretty about this story. It is dark and depressing, but I was enchanted.

Nicr May 14, 2018

Actress and substance abuser Maria Wyeth tries to cope with a flagging career, a broken marriage, a sick daughter and an abortion: "I know what 'nothing' means, and kept on playing." It's as much the style as the subject matter that's so notable: intense and aphoristic, in short staccato chapters. A quick, bruising read.

Aug 29, 2010

My third Didion book. Why am I so drawn to this author? I really don't know. This book is of people so "blasé", so out of touch with reality, so in their own little world, that you keep reading and keep reading till the last word, the last phrase in the hope that, that maybe... No, this is hopeless. Why, why not.


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