- Series: FSG Classics
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2nd edition (November 15, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374529949
- ISBN-13: 978-0374529949
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 130 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Play It As It Lays: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – November 15, 2005
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
“There hasn't been another American writer of Joan Didion's quality since Nathanel West . . . A terrifying book.” ―John Leonard, The New York Times
“Simple, restrained, intelligent, well-structured, witty, irresistibly relentless, forthright in diction, and untainted by the sensational, Play It As It Lays is a book of outstanding literary quality.” ―Library Journal
“[A] scathing novel, distilling venom in tiny drops, revealing devastation in a sneer and fear in a handful of atomic dust.” ―J. R. Frakes, Book World
About the Author
Joan Didion is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as several screenplays written with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne. Her books include The White Album, Play It As It Lays, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem. She lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Raised in the ghost town of Silver Wells, Nevada, Maria Wyeth is an ex-model and the star of two films directed by her estranged husband, Carter Lang. But in the spiritual desert of 1960s Los Angeles, Maria has lost the plot of her own life. Her daughter, Kate, was born with an “aberrant chemical in her brain.” Her long-troubled marriage has slipped beyond repair, and her disastrous love affairs and strained friendships provide little comfort. Her only escape is to get in her car and drive the freeway—in the fast lane with the radio turned up high—until it runs out “somewhere no place at all where the flawless burning concrete just stopped.” But every ride to nowhere, every sleepless night numbed by pills and booze and sex, makes it harder for Maria to find the meaning in another day.
My Thoughts: Joining the journey of Maria Wyeth in Play It as It Lays: A Novel felt like a descent. A slow unraveling of a woman who has found no meaning in her life, and who will end up with nothing left.
Mariah has finally come full circle and is under the care of psychiatrists, in a place where she can turn her life over to others.
In a non-linear narrative, we watch Mariah’s life in flashbacks. Anything she sees in the world around her can send her back to moments in another time or place. Some happy moments, and as she grasps for feelings of connection, she can hang on a little longer. Images of her daughter Kate feel the most poignant, and sometimes she seems to be grasping for time with her again, but she also realizes that these hopes are impossible.
Watching a young woman destroy herself slowly, and seeing those around her enable her, felt like an insidious train wreck. Self-destruction takes time, but when it finally happens, you almost feel relieved. A beautifully written story that literally depressed me. 4.5 stars.
Didion’s searing take on Hollywood is as unforgiving as the biz itself. Its vapidity is juxtaposed with the opulent rituals of its self-important players, and with the desperation of those who will only ever hope to play such a role. It dismantles the assumption that ‘the life’ is all luxurious leisure, gratifying glamour, and a promise of endless possibilities for a more finely lit tomorrow. When recalling the words of her gambling-addicted father in the opening monologue, a glimpse of reason is given as to what now compels her to open up like never before: “I was raised to believe that what came in on the next roll would always be better than what went out on the last. I no longer believe that, but I am telling you how it was.” This is a warning à la “The Emperor’s New Clothes;” the city is like a model whom photographers only shoot from a certain angle, but Maria has grown weary of false pretenses.
After this brief first-person narrative chapter of Maria’s (followed by even briefer ones by her (ex)husband and who we can only assume is the closest she can get to a female friend), a cold and eerily detached third-person takes over, casting an unnerving fog over the story as if to mirror the drug-induced haze in which she keeps herself to quell the nightmares. “By the end of the week she was thinking constantly about where her body stopped and the air began, about the exact point in space and time that was the difference between Maria and other.” And there is indeed a distinction between Maria and these other players: nothing, or more precisely an understanding of nothingness – an understanding of the cosmic cruelty that dictates our interlaced fates.
The interplay between the choices we make, the choices of others, and how those two fatalistic forces combine to make up that which we cannot control is the heart of the novel’s nihilism. She cannot control her husband and the hospital staff who discourage her from visiting the only person she unselfishly and desperately seems to love, but who or what can Maria blame for her daughter’s mysterious cognitive malady? Is it her own misfiring mind? But if so, who or what is to blame for that? The book posits this quasi-religious quandary throughout, invoking an existential anxiety in the reader. “Carter and Helene still believe in cause-and-effect. Carter and Helene also believe that people are either sane or insane.” Maria’s sanity is called into question by nearly every player she exchanges words with, and the recurring disparity between her thoughts, feelings, and actions cause the reader to do the same. But perhaps her overwhelming sense that nothing and no one around her is meaningful is the more accurate perception of our shared reality.
In the ominous words of an ill-fated player, “If you can’t deal with the morning, get out of the game […] it’s play-or-pay.” Plays such as Shakespeare’s are predetermined – they have a set plot, prewritten dialogue, and a clearly-defined denouement which every iteration adheres to. But as Maria comes to find, life is much more like a game – the odds are ever-shifting, the misunderstandings constant and compounding, and any of its ends up until one’s final breath do not necessarily make sense or produce any semblance of significance. While the general reader may not care about or like Maria, they are kept in perpetual suspense as to where her story will end. And for the select few who identify with her, who have perhaps travelled the same roads, slept in the same hotels, shopped in the same stores, or suffered an analogous angst, her story is a terrifying reminder that you are not alone in your abject loneliness – but such knowledge might mean something to someone.
In this cinematically structured novel, with its dizzying scene shifts and fluctuating focus like that of uncertain cinematographer, Didion poignantly presents the plight of a woman swept away by the perpetual and indifferent waves of interest present in the patriarchal world of Hollywood. Though set nearly sixty years in the past, its players and themes are as immediate and real as the landscape she cleverly uses as a symbolic backdrop to her uniquely L.A. drama. Fans of postmodern literature will appreciate the craft and care with which she carves out Maria’s convoluted mind from the filthy pavement of Hollywood Boulevard, and those new to the movement will be thrown headfirst into the fragmented chaos of demolished identity and malleable meaning.
Why, BZ would say.
Why not, I say.
I have seldom started a novel with such positive expectations and felt so disappointed. I loved Joan Didion's first novel, "Run, River". This novel, "Play It As It Lays" seems more celebrated. I relished the chance to read it. Honestly, what I liked most about it is that it was short, sort of the reading experience equivalent of euthanasia.
This occasionally happens to me. A writer, Thomas Pynchon comes to mind, is seemingly revered by some critics, writes a book that I can barely read; "V" as an example., although I did enjoy a different book of his, "The Crying of Lot 49". This has happened to me with other authors such as Toni Morrison. I have concluded that some readers simply have a greater ability to appreciate certain artistic aspects of literature that I lack.
"Play It As It Lays" is on the list of the best 100 American novels since the beginning of Time Magazine 1923. Frankly I find that bewildering. "Run, River" is not on that list.
In summary, I although I am positive some readers will enjoy this work, alas, I am not among them. I intend to keep reading Joan Didion's work, as I positively love "Run, River". Thank You...