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Play It As It Lays

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  16,158 Ratings  ·  1,306 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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Jeffrey Keeten
“There was silence. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.”

 photo Joan20Didion_zpsxckspaho.jpg
Joan Didion

Whenever Maria called, it was as if the ringing of the phone heralded the end of any conviviality I might have been harboring. I always had the impression when I talked with her that the Fun to Be Around Maria was dying in another room, and all I was left with was the beautiful corpse.

She was b
Jun 21, 2013 Jenn(ifer) rated it really liked it

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
Jun 11, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic, read-2015
Joan Didion once said that writing is a hostile act. An imposition of the writer's sensibility on the reader's most private space.

Play It As It Lays, published in 1970, slaps down at your soul's kitchen table and announces itself, not loudly, but in a voice that crawls under your skin, not really caring whether or not you want to see anyone, and lights a cigarette. In between noxious exhales, it tells you some version of the truth.

Maria Wyeth's story, told in shifting first and close third pers
May 20, 2009 Weinz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 ...more
Jul 19, 2007 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lynne King
So that she would not have to stop for food she kept a hard-boiled egg on the passenger seat of the Corvette. She could shell and eat a hard-boiled egg at seventy miles an hour (crack it on the steering wheel, never mind salt, salt bloats, no matter what happened she remembered her body).

Which author could possibly begin a novel with the words:

What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask.

Well surprisingly enough Joan Didion. And these words set in motion the inevitable direction that thi
Apr 25, 2008 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe Valdez
Nov 11, 2015 Joe Valdez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
Anyone still wondering why Dave Chappelle would walk out on a $50 million TV deal with Comedy Central to go into semi-retirement hasn't read Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. All the answers are here.

There is such a thing as a novel missing me at whatever point I'm at in my life. But there's also the kismet of a novel careening into me at the moment I'm crossing the same intersection the author is driving through. A month ago, I was reading an oral history of the '80s movie Masters of the Unive
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 11, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  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
Apr 24, 2012 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 06, 2016 orsodimondo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
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, perché la storia è già sentita, e presto detta: 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; sono presenti registi, produttori e attori, film girati nel deserto californiano, cocktail, party, ristoranti, lounge, Las Vegas, casino, Corve
Mar 12, 2009 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
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 acc ...more
April Hayes
Nov 26, 2007 April Hayes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nate D
The city burning is Los Angeles's deepest image of itself.

Joan Didion, quoted not from Play It As It Lays, but from Vanessa Place's LA MEDUSA, which I happened to read just before this*. Here, L.A. is not in flames but a void. Nothingness lies at the heart of everything and everyone here, chilling even when constrained by ostensibly ordinary events. I read this in a single day, which seems to be the way to go, in and around train rides, industrial voids, an encounter with the police, and a barbe
Jason Coleman
Aug 04, 2010 Jason Coleman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 17, 2010 Zach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 31, 2007 Martha rated it liked it  ·  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
Jun 24, 2016 Ubiqua rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Romanzo intenso costituito da unità narrative brevissime, dove ogni singola parola si stacca dal fondo formando un mosaico poetico di sorprendente potenza. L’ambientazione californiana non si concede alcuna frivolezza, fornendo una visione disincantata della vita che gravita attorno a Hollywood. La storia descrive il vuoto e il dolore, compagni costanti della protagonista Maria, che sfreccia senza meta per i deserti americani in cerca di un sollievo che non potrà mai trovare.
Struggente e bellis
Dec 02, 2011 kasia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2012 Troy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010

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
Abe Brennan
May 17, 2007 Abe Brennan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  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
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.
Mar 28, 2012 Edan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
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...
Nov 04, 2013 Uncle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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,
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
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Hysterical Realists: Joan Didion Group Read? 1 28 Apr 13, 2012 07:24AM  
  • The Train
  • The Man Who Loved Children
  • Falconer
  • The Assistant
  • Dog Soldiers
  • Call It Sleep
  • Loving
  • A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1-3)
  • The Sot-Weed Factor
  • The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr Norris/Goodbye to Berlin
  • The Sportswriter
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner
  • Appointment in Samarra
  • Speedboat
  • Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
  • The Day of the Locust
  • The Death of the Heart
  • Under the Net
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...

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“What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask.” 53 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.” 41 likes
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