“Play It as it Lays”


This was my first time reading any of Didion’s work, and I confess to being blown away by the artistry, vision, and sense of possession that this book had.

The writing style is very sparse and tends to cluster around images; phrases, chance feelings. It is not descriptive, nor is it stream-of-counciousness in style, but somewhere in between.

As anyone can glean by reading the back cover, the tone is primarily one of despair and hopelessness. It’s a savage deconstruction of the ’60s. All that is true, but there is more to this book than what the back cover intimated. This book is a savagely vivid illustration of the phrase “money does not buy happiness”.

The main character, Maria, is a miserable young women, who grew up in an extremely small town in Nevada. The desolation of her past and her society is symbolized by how this area is now a nuclear testing ground. Due to her looks, she has becomes a minor starlet; the reality is that she has married a director in Hollywood, and has played some roles. In terms of a career, she circles the drain between obscurity and getting into pornography.

Her father was a failed gambler and entrepreneur, and her mother (who we detect was far more important to Maria) emotionally dies in a random car accident. The main characters are rich, beautiful, connected and utterly miserable. Nihilism, drugs and alcohol, casual sex, and mental illness lurks behind every encounter.

The essentially chaotic meaninglessness of the universe comes home in this book. There is very important passages on pregnancy, abortion, and love.

Read it.


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