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Play It As It Lays (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

“What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.” These are the opening words of Didion’s morose, devastating novel Play It as It Lays. The reference to Shakespeare’s infamous villain is more than mere literary signaling, however, serving the dual purposes of introducing the novel’s main preoccupations and indicating its lead character’s general despondency and emotional paralysis. From here, Didion crafts a bleak and harrowing tale of 1960s Hollywood­­—a world as sinister as it is decadent. At its center is Maria Wyeth, a disillusioned actress whose life is plunged into turmoil after her philandering husband has their ill child institutionalized against Maria’s will. Told in a spare, striking voice and from multiple narrative perspectives, Play It as It Lays is at turns sordid, troubling, and debauched, but its investigation of post-war American ennui, it cannot be matched. I love this book!

— Chad


A dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It As It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation. Joan Didion chose Hollywood to serve as her microcosm of contemporary society and exposed a culture characterized by emptiness and ennui.

Maria Wyeth is an emotional drifter who has become almost anesthetized against pain and pleasure. She finds herself, in her early thirties, radically divorced from husband, lovers, friends, her own past and her own future. Actress, daughter, wife, mother, woman: she has played each role to the sound of one hand clapping.

Play It As It Lays is set in a place beyond good and evil, literally in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and the barren wastes of the Mojave, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul. Two decades after its original publication, it remains a profoundly disturbing novel.

Praise For…

"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

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374521714
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 1st, 1990
Pages: 214
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