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Play It As It Lays

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  12,347 ratings  ·  1,020 reviews
A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, from the author of The Last Thing He Wanted and A Book of Common Prayer. Somewhere out beyond Hollywood, resting actress Maria Wyeth drifts along the freeway in perpetual motion, anaesthetized to pain and pleasure, seemingly untainted by her personal history. She finds herself, in her early thirties, radically divor ...more
Paperback, 214 pages
Published July 1971 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1970)
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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
Recently my five y/o daughter caught the first minute of the "Thriller" video. I say the first minute because upon seeing Michael look up at the camera with yellow eyes and fangs she threw her hands up, screamed at the top of her lungs, ran from the room, into her room, ran back into the room (still screaming), out of the room, back in and buried her head into the safety of my comforting lap (still screaming).

Now I realize this is most people's reaction to seeing Micheal's post '90s decomposing
This book is simply brilliant. The fatalism of it's heroine, Maria Wyeth, is absolutely heart-wrenching as she slowly grows more and more tired of life. Didion is a surgeon, each sentence like a scalpel cutting away a cancerous tumor. No one can match her for brutal honesty. While it's a very quick read at just over 200 pages, it deals a swift but heavy blow.
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
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 11, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 1
Recommended to K.D. by: Time 100; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
A beautiful book that you can finish in one sitting. However, don't read this when you are depressed because it can make you more depressed. In fact, it made me stop reading for a while because I felt so sad because I could not shake off from my mind the disheartening scenes in the book. This book that is included in the Time Magazine's 100 Best English Novels from 1923 to 2005.

The book is about a 30-year old mother, Maria Wyeth who lives in the 60's America as a struggling actress. She meets a
The first of her fiction that I’ve read, and it has the bleakly stylish pleasures I might have predicted from prior exposure to the essays – her feel for ominous banality, for the casual nihilism of the rootless (she insinuates where Isherwood rants, and beats him on the Zen of Freeways), for the grotesque contrast of a character’s obvious ongoing crack-up and the evasive, anesthetized trivialities she speaks in. Published in 1970 but feels radically spare and minimal – but I don’t know why I sa ...more
Mar 12, 2009 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: film industry wives? or people obsessed with LA
I remember when I read Where I Was From a couple years ago, Didion referred a lot to her novel Play It As It Lays and I thought it sounded really bad. About a year ago I found an old edition someplace with this enormous and brain-numbingly awesome picture of Didion with her cigarette and legendarily icy, ironical stare. I really came close to buying it just because of that image on the back, but then I had a real stern confrontation with myself in the used fiction aisle about the folly and immat ...more
April Hayes
You ever notice how almost every review you’ll read of a Joan Didion book calls her “intelligent,” or says that she writes “intelligent prose”? That must get to you. No wonder all of her heroines take pills.

It’s true, though, she does have an awful big brain for such a little lady. And yeah, L.A. is scary, and there isn’t really anyone who conveys that better than her…except maybe Philip K. Dick, who isn’t literally writing about L.A., but come on.

But, I don’t know, as good as the technique is h
Oof. The Sheltering Sky meets The Great Gatsby as rewritten by Raymond Carver? Only... even more depressing and bleak than that sounds? Hence the "oof," you know.

Normally I just want books about poor, poor rich people to spare me, but this one worked by never losing sight of the fact that these hedonists were constantly digging their own holes.
It's probably not cricket to give away the last, or nearly last line of a book, but this packs a punch: "I know what 'nothing' means, and keep on playing."

So what does one say about a book that is at once and the same time equally infuriating and incisive and compelling? The background is, after all, Hollywood and so by extension the ennui of the heroine is supposed to be seen as heroic, eg., she's genuine when everyone else is phony. But I think she's just as phony. Having the backdrop and the
Ogni libro di Joan Didion che leggo è più bello del precedente, e sono tutti magnifici.

Non è certo la trama che lo rende così grande, la storia è presto detta, è già sentita: giovane starlet di Hollywood precocemente sul viale del tramonto in preda a ennui, divide il suo tempo tra sesso droghe troppo poco r&r e farmaci vari; ci sono registi, produttori e attori, film girati nel deserto californiano, cocktail, party, ristoranti, lounge, Las Vegas, casino, Corvette, suicidi, te
Jason Coleman
Kind of fascinating to see that concise, tip-of-the-iceberg prose of Didion's essays applied to a piece of fiction. The heroine, who seems to share the author's withering intelligence, can't enjoy the decadence that her friends have resigned themselves to, but she isn't much good with the wholesome life either, so she carves out a mostly solitary existence made up of sleeping next to her swimming pool, compulsively hitting the highway (she puts less thought into zipping over to Vegas [distance: ...more
Fantastic read! The writing is so evocative. I love this kind of writing. This isn't a light read but it's a very fast one. I feel like I felt every sentence. The book takes place in Hollywood in the late 60's and seemed so authentic. Also, because I have grown up in Southern California and the surrounding deserts I could picture every scene. The MC, Maria, is falling down the rabbit hole and you feel like you're falling with her.
The back cover of my version of the book, quoting a review by "J.R. Frakes, Book World , promised me "venom in tiny drops" and "devastation in a sneer and fear in a handful of atomic dust". The story of Maria Wyeth,a Hollywood actress walking through her privileged and vacant life with glassy eyes is as bleak and arid as its anaesthetised protagonist, but disappointingly not venomous. I was promised toxin and given a bitter melon.
Oct 31, 2007 Martha rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fashionistas and chloe sevigny
Lifes tough when you're a pill popping actress trying to cope with an abortion. Quick and entertaining enough to pass time on subway rides. I had trouble relating or empathizing with the characters in the book, though i had a hunch i'm not supposed to. Maybe its LA that i dont like? It had a Hurly Burly type feel to it, except its not funny. This book probably would have been more effective if i read it when i was 15, when wallowing in depression seemed glamourous. Honestly i had a hard time abs ...more
Everything goes. I am working very hard at not thinking about how everything goes. - Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays is the quintessential novel of Southern California, Los Angeles specifically, in the late 1960s. The book’s main character is Maria Wyeth, a model-actress just past thirty, whose career has stalled. Her marriage to film director Carter Lang would also appear to be over, though neither seem able to make the final break. The couple’s only child, Kate,
Abe Brennan
A novel in snippets, Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays begins with three passages narrated in the first person by three of the main characters—the focus of these people’s observations is Maria, the first of the three, and the main character of the novel. The rest of the book is comprised of 84 pieces of prose narrated in the third person from Maria’s point of view. What emerges from these episodic glimpses into the hazy world of a would-be starlet, wife, and mother is a portrait of dissolution, d ...more
Aug 12, 2007 Alison rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the curious
Shelves: alltime100novel
This story is of Maria. She's in a mental institution or neuropsychaitric center as they were called in the '60's. Her daughter is also commited and is being treated for a chemical imabalance. I think the daughter's around the age of 4. Maria's seen some bad stuff in her day, but the straw that broke the camel's back...well, I won't spoil it. But, there was something that she was blamed for...something that she allowed to happen. And that's why she's holed up undergoing psychotherapy. She tries ...more
I tried listening to this as an audiobook but quickly got lost. Luckily I already had an old paperback lying around. I recommend that you read this in a single sitting. It should take no more than two and a half hours. The chapters, and even the segments within the longer chapters, are so fragmentary that the only way to enjoy the book is as a whole rather than pieces. I've read that this is a book about a woman losing her mind but I don't believe that. The people in her life think that she is c ...more
Hmm. Star ratings are tricky here. I'm giving it a 3 for my own enjoyment of it, but it probably deserves a four for being so well written.

Although I didn't exactly relish this book, I did read it in one sitting. I love Joan Didion's essays, so I was excited to try a novel. But this is not really my kind of book. If you like Bret Easton Ellis novels, you'll probably love this. If you like reading about rich people wandering aimlessly through their lives and shuddering through the death throes of
I picked this book up from the library because of a tag line comparing Didion to Nathanael West. I think the similarity comes from both of their depictions of Hollywood in unfavorable light, however I think West focuses more on the absurdity and dark humor, while Didion's novel tends to point out the emptiness and depravity.

This is the Hollywood of the early 1970s. Driving around freeways, cocktail parties, drugs, sham marriages, one night stands with nobody actors. Maria is a very unhappy woman
didion adoptsThe Moth james cain-like story telling and as a noir it is kinda weak, but also her sentences can cut like obsidian, you don;t even realize you are bleeding, till you dribble some gin down the glass and OUCH!
but nice touch of feminism and trying for 'behind-the-scenes' of glittergulch and womens rights to their bodies and their health and dignity, even if they are not exercised.
and nice touch of nihilism where one character is so sad and behind the 8ball there is no choice but to of
Full of memorable lines and utterly engrossing, Play it as It Lays is a new favorite. I read it pretty quickly but it took a lot out of me to do so. Must find more Didion...
A little gem of a book. Powerful, flawless, like a knife on raw bone....
Jul 30, 2008 Andy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: hollywood swingers
Shelves: hollywoodbabylon
"Play It As It Lays" is the end product of an era when Hollywood partied night after night until someone got hurt, like Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger and Jay Sebring. It's the hangover of a Hollywood party when the drugs weren't strong enough and the sex wasn't twisted enough anymore, and a jaded party girl cracks like an egg. Joan Didion put it all on paper, warts and Hollywood crazies and all. I can almost see the tinted aviator sunglasses, brown suede jackets, and feathered hair.
Best opening ever:
What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.


Just re-read this for a lecture I'm giving in April. I have added one star for the voice and structure, and what's left off the page, is truly amazing. Loved it the second time!
"...the book is very...sordid, isn't it? And tough - by which they mean not a tough read, but hard-hearted."

Not being a fan of book intros (spoilers, love) I generally wait until the end of a novel to see what has been illuminated. In my version, the introduction by David Thomason eloquently summarized the complicated appeal of this book. It is compelling, complex, and has unyielding momentum. The question is, what is it, and thus the protagonist Maria, moving toward? The answer? Nothing.

Isaac Cooper
I mean maybe I was holding all the aces, but what was the game?

2.5/5 Stars

I felt incredibly dicked around while reading Play It as It Lays. I read all of it – a good sign for me – but I still felt dicked. I was getting rather restless at times, and I was also reminded of Hemingway (whom I loathe, and whom I believe Ms Didion aspires to be). I just wanted something more to happen! I wanted to feel something more for Maria (ma-ri-a?). Granted, I did feel something, but not enough. Quality review,

My love for Didion grows and grows.

I had closed my book store but didn't want to go home. My home isn't comfortable; recently my bedroom ceiling collapsed and was half-ass fixed, a few days ago my kitchen ceiling collapsed, and all despite warning my lazy super that the pipes in my ceiling were damaged and if not fixed would result in a collapsed and destroyed kitchen ceiling. Anyway, I was hanging out with my friend Red and we had closed the store. I picked up this book and started reading
Caitlin Constantine
This is one of my top 10 favorite books, an airless story about a woman immersed in the morally arid culture of Hollywood, and her eventual mental breakdown as she fails to reconcile the life she wants with the one she has. It's depressing but beautiful.

The plot isn't what makes this book so special to me, even though it belongs to one of my favorite subgenres: "Woman Loses Her Shit After Bumping Up Against the Constraints of Social Mores One Too Many Times." (See also: Charlotte Perkins Gilman'
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Hysterical Realists: Joan Didion Group Read? 1 26 Apr 13, 2012 07:24AM  
  • The Man Who Loved Children
  • The Train
  • Dog Soldiers
  • The Assistant
  • Falconer
  • A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement
  • Call It Sleep
  • At Swim-Two-Birds
  • The Sot-Weed Factor
  • Loving
  • The Sportswriter
  • The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr Norris/Goodbye to Berlin
  • Under the Net
  • The Death of the Heart
  • Appointment in Samarra
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner
  • Herzog
  • Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She's best known for her novels and her literary journalism.

Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.
More about Joan Didion...
The Year of Magical Thinking Slouching Towards Bethlehem Blue Nights The White Album A Book of Common Prayer

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“What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask.” 45 likes
“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.” 36 likes
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