Play It As It Lays

Play It As It Lays

eBook - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"There hasn't been another American writer of Joan Didion's quality since Nathanael West." —John Leonard, The New York Times. A marvel of compression written in spare, expertly honed prose, Play It As It Lays tells the story of minor Hollywood actress Maria Wyeth, in her early 30s, troubled, and the spiritually arid, drug-numbed world through which she moves. Divorced from her movie-director husband, mother of a little girl, Maria, an ex-model from a tiny Nevada town, is recovering from a breakdown as the novel opens. Via a series of taut, impressionistic scenes, the narrative surveys her path to the present, from a Silver Wells, Nevada, girlhood to Hollywood, a life marked, for Maria, by broken relationships, reliance on pills, and empty sex, and spent among play-acting narcissists. Written by an author with intimate knowledge of Hollywood, and one of our keenest observers of cultural emptiness, Play It As It Lays is harrowing, a brilliant, unsparing exploration of self-destructive lives. The novel's hyper-vivid settings—Los Angeles during the searing Santa Ana winds, neon Las Vegas, sunblasted desert towns—are essential to its haunting atmosphere, one with hints of impending doom and shriveling sustenance. Here is the first-ever digital edition of a novel Time magazine named one of the Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005, a strikingly controlled book where Joan Didion discovered the perfect form for her unnerving, transfixing story.
Publisher: New York : Zola Books, 2016
Characteristics: 1 online resource
ISBN: 9781939126177


From Library Staff

With her inimitable economy of prose, Joan Didion's scathing, classic work of post-traumatic Hollywood fiction zeroes in on Maria Wyeth, a former Hollywood actress slowly disintegrating amidst the ennui of late 60s California.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
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.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at Skokie Public Library

To Top