Author(s): Joan DidionDownload
A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, 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.
Some Reviews: 1888 in Goodreads.com
All right, let’s discuss…
It has been a month since I read this little ditty, and in that one month’s time, it has managed to lose a star. Because honestly, I can’t give a book 5 stars just because I couldn’t put it down, just because it was a “quick read.” If that was the standard, every Jodi Picoult book I’ve ever read would be given 5 stars.
When it comes down to it, while I did thoroughly enjoy this book, it isn’t one that’s going to stay with me through the ages. It isn’t one I’m going to recommend to you or you or you. Although I’m sure you’d enjoy it. Or not.
One of my GR friends told me that this book is a favorite of The National front man/songwriter Matt Berninger (I haven’t been able to find corroboration of this on the interwebs, but I’ll take your word for it). Loving The National like I do, I figured I’d give it a shot.
I guess in retrospect this book feels a little self-indulgent to me. It’s a story of a poor sad little actress with nothing but a lot of money and a lot of time on her hands. Ever met a beautiful girl with dead eyes and an expressionless face who doesn’t care about anything or anyone? Well that’s Maria Wyeth for you. Her world is a bleak one that you really shouldn’t visit for very long, because she’s the kind of girl who will suck the life right out of you. Unless you’re a nihilist. Then you should pull up a chair and stay awhile; you’ll feel right at home.
This has absolutely nothing to do with the book, but you should listen to it anyway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FIw7E…
March 20, 2017 – I was right. I remember nothing about this book. I should take away another star!
Gambling, domestic violence, sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, insanity, depression, snakes, suicide. These are all elements of Play It As It Lays, and much, much more. This is stark, wide-eyed, slap in the face prose that grabs the reader and holds you from beginning to end. It’s not a pleasant read, no way. Watching Maria Wyeth’s life unfold is like watching the proverbial train wreck that you can’t look away from. Set in the 1960’s, it’s about Hollywood and the movie industry; it’s about Las Vegas and gambling; but mostly it’s about the life of a not so famous actress who is lost in the darkest corners of these places, and in the darkest corners of life. Joan Didion is at her best here, the writing is superb and it’s definitely worthy of being called a modern classic. 4.5 stars.
When I finished reading this book the other day, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really appreciated it correctly. That I needed to reread it right away because I hadn’t read it the right way and because there is a lot that you don’t have enough information to make sense of the first time around.
I don’t understand how people can call this book cold and sterile. I just thought it was so rich and textured and heartbreaking. I feel like the little chapters are like puzzle pieces and each piece is a sort of tone poem or a meditation or an evocation and when you place the pieces together what’s between the pieces is just about devastating.
One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing.
Why, BZ would say.
Why not, I say.
Joan Didion wastes no words. This novel is slim because she only says what must be said, and the reader must make the connections and draw the conclusions. It starts at the end with a few chapters from the points of view of other characters, then shifts into the story from Maria Wyeth’s point of view. It is a picture of a depressed woman in a fake society, late 1960s Los Angeles and Las Vegas. An era with drugs and sex, movie stars in the desert and psychiatric hospitals for children, but no access to legal abortion.
(That requires a sidenote – is this the first novel I’ve read where the main character has an abortion? I can’t think of another one. Isn’t that strange, considering how many women have them? And since this one was under the table it was pretty difficult to read those parts, with the trauma to her body. Her psyche was already messed up.)
I had only read a few things of Didion before but I have this feeling that I will like her more and more as I age. I read The Year of Magical Thinking before I’d experienced any grief of my own. Oh how the reading experience would change just five years later. We studied the essay “The White Album” from the collection of essays The White Album when I took the creative non-fiction class and I knew I had to read more of her. She is not afraid to write what nobody else will say and she never sugar coats it.
Wildly disenchanted 1960s Hollywood.
This is a story about Maria, and to tell more is to ruin the swirl of consciousness. It is stark, the tarnished and penumbral side of glamour. How hard won “glamour” is. The winners, the losers, the rising and the falling; they all portray the tenuous hold each has. So close to the edge.
Honestly, I don’t recommend this story to anyone that isn’t in a good headspace because it’s brutal in a nihilistic manner. That said, it is a fantastic voice, telling of a woman’s story. I loved the abortion. I find it hysterically amusing that the more men attempt to control women’s bodies the more workarounds there are. If you haven’t ever talked to women and discussed abortion through the decades, you should because it is fascinating. It’s always been there and always will. The only question remaining is how dangerous.
My body is not state property to legislate. –yeah, this is my personal statement and not related to the book, per se. If you live in a shithole state, there are plenty of workarounds–Follow the internet crumbs.
As if one needs it straight up: this is NOT politically correct.
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