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Play It As It Lays
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Play It As It Lays

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  11,092 ratings  ·  917 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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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.
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
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,...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
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
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...more
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...more
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!

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...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
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'...more
i think i would actually give this 3.5 stars. it's close to 4... but...

never having read any of didion's fiction i was immensely curious as to what i would find. her stylistic approach to fiction is very similar to the non-fiction i've read of hers. sentences and thoughts come at you in short, precise, loaded, and planned prose. words are not minced. i got a clear sense that every adjective and every word carried weight.

this is not a happy book. and i couldn't really sympathize with any of the...more
Laurel Beth
A few months ago I had a dream. I was a participant in a Know Your Boo-cum-Hunger Games style game show, in which I had to answer questions about my boyfriend to save him from death. The question came, "What's your boo's favorite color?" and I had no idea what the answer was. Like most dreams, I awoke before the definitive event, only to know that I had failed.

My own responses to the questions of favorites are arbitrary - they are learned responses to questions no one ever asks. The stratificati...more
Simon A. Smith
I DID like this book quite a bit. I was highly impressed with Didion's style, her courage and her unflinching, uncensored look at drugs, lust, hollywood and irredeemability... It's a real mind bender. Makes you want to look away and come closer all at the same time. The ending left a lot to imgination, which I wasn't sure if I found refreshing or disappointing... ultimately, a solid 4 - 4 1/2 stars. This book certainly is not for everyone, but it was so endlessly interesting and surprising. With...more
Nakisa Rowshan
It has been a long time since I have read and been moved by a book to the extent which this one reached me. The prose is at times simplistic and others fragmentary; yet the two stylistic frames offer a unique and abstract symmetry. I was touched on a personal and empathetic level which I did not expect, especially because Maria as a character, in full, (and what her life shared us and spoke of) was not one I could mirror in any immediate or complete manner. I definitely recommend this text to an...more
Maria is beautiful, thin, rich. Her parents dealt her with aces. She had her mother's beauty, her father's optimism. What she lacked was the game.

Maria's world is shattered when her daughter is put into an institution for being mentally retarded. This is never spelled out, it is merely alluded to. Her family life is not as she wishes it to be. They are not a cosy couple, living an everyday life with their child. Her husband is away mostly, making films, while she is the bored, purposeless Bever...more
John Lee
Of all skills in the world, one that likely ranks as "useless" or "impractical" is consuming media about people who cannot find meaning in their lives. A person who possesses this skill may, with high probability, find themselves reading Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion. The subject of the book is a Hollywood actress named Maria (pronounced Mar-eye-a) Wyeth who has a flagging career and a messy personal life. The novel explores her thoughts and actions in this situation.

A word one may use to de...more
Well-crafted but frustrating and numbing. Not a book to read during spring, more like the end of autumn sort of read. I wanted to smash things at the end, but I felt too enervated.
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Hysterical Realists: Joan Didion Group Read? 1 24 Apr 13, 2012 07:24AM  
  • The Train
  • Falconer
  • The Man Who Loved Children
  • Dog Soldiers
  • Call it Sleep
  • The Assistant
  • Loving
  • The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr Norris/Goodbye to Berlin
  • The Sportswriter
  • A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement
  • The Recognitions
  • The Sot-Weed Factor
  • At Swim-Two-Birds
  • Appointment in Samarra
  • Under the Net
  • Money
  • The Death of the Heart
  • 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.” 41 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.” 28 likes
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