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Play It as It Lays Paperback – 15 Nov 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 2nd edition (15 Nov. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374529949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374529949
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 1.8 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,325,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘She writes with a razor.’ New York Times

‘A pioneer of New Journalism, she brilliantly chronicled America’s cultural and political life.’ Guardian

‘Didion's mordant lucidity is like L.A. sunlight, a thing so bright sometimes it hurts.’ Time

PRAISE FOR THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING
'Her poetic writing has a spell-like charm that is profoundly affecting.' Observer

'this brave book maps a year…when the world flipped over to expose the underside of cool where things go bad.’ The Times

'The subject may be bleak, but her tender treatment makes it a book that we should all read.' Daily Mail

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

A ruthless 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, lover, 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.

‘’There hasn’t been another American writer of Joan Didion’s quality since Nathanael West…A terrifying book.’’
JOHN LEONARD, 'New York Times'

‘‘Didion is a better writer than Cheever.’’
ANGELA CARTER, 'Guardian'

‘‘A writer of haunting power and global vision who sees a world on the edge of nervous breakdown and is not afraid to deliver the news.’’
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘‘Joan Didion’s acupuncture prose hits cells we didn’t know we had and reinvigorates our entire sensibility. She circles her characters and key events as she might a dangerous snake.’’
JILL NEVILLE, 'Sunday Times'

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Fantasy Lore on 13 May 2004
Format: Paperback
My experience of this book is that it divides opinion; you either find it depressing/irritating, or for some inexplicable reason...uplifting rather than disturning and I'm in the latter category.

But there's no escaping the fact that this novel has an incredibly hollow centre- the exploration of Hollywood and the drug culture of the 1960's won't make many readers feel all fuzzy inside, but there is something brutally refreshing about the heroine Maria's experiences, as we follow her on her journey. As a central character she's very unusual, quite possibly because she's in a permamant catatonic state and as a result she wades through the monotony of her life, observing events with a detachment that makes for surprisingly absorbing reading.

The point of view is very narrow in this story, it's a flow-of-conciousness novel (i.e. quite confusing at times), which may in itself put people off and the fact that the narrator has had an emotional bypass may also discourage those considering picking up this book, but I found Maria's story convincing and interesting. *But be warned, you'll need a good supply of coca-cola to consume whilst reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Walton TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 9 May 2012
Format: Paperback
I first read this novel on a trip to Los Angeles many years ago, and picked it up to read again when I revisited that city last month. The city is almost a character in the book: ever-present in the background as the heroine tries to escape from her demons by continually driving its endless freeways: "She drove the San Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura [...and she] lay at night in the still of Beverly hills and saw the great signs soar overhead at seventy miles an hour, Normandie 1/4 Vermont 3/4 Harbor Fwy 1." (p16).

Its presence is made stronger by the emptiness of the heroine's life: an unfulfilled actress in the middle of a divorce (and probably a nervous breakdown as well), drifting in the emotional space between sad memories of her parents, longings for her hospitalized daughter, and several men whose characters are so vaguely drawn that you find it hard to remember which is which. You can also tell that it's not a happy story, but the author tells it with such spare, tight and vivid prose (strongly reminiscent of Hemingway) that you find yourself being drawn along for the ride on those endless highways.
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By M on 13 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A powerful novel from the wonderful Joan Didion scraping flesh from the bones of American life in the 1960s.
Frightening, incisive and haunting account of a woman without a home for her heart.
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By Rosalynd Jarrett on 15 Dec. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this to be a very mellowing story. It manages to communicate the flatness and isolation of a person suffering with depression, without being at all self pitying or depressing in itself, which is both and insightful. A good read, I enjoyed it.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "ajf93" on 5 Nov. 2002
Format: Paperback
Probably one of the more depressing books I've read, this is one long tale of misery, centred around a has-been actress whose life slowly goes off the rails into a miasma of pointlessness, abortion, failed relationships and murder. But this is essentially where the book's power lies; in it's ability to disturb the reader and force them to reassess themselves and give thanks that their life isn't quite this bad. Didion writes the book in a spare, deadpan style that is brutally appropriate to the subject matter.
Those of a depressive disposition would probably be better off with a Harry Potter.
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By Friends together on 22 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought as a gift and enjoyed by the reader
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on 28 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback
There is, wrote Charles Baudelaire, a vice which is uglier, more wicked and filthier than any other, a vice which he called "L'Ennui". This is a stronger term than the mere "boredom" which is its literal meaning, because the word also implies a state of indifference and moral and spiritual deadness. It is a state of mind frequently invoked in Baudelaire's poetry, and one which is also at the centre of Joan Didion's novel.
The central character is Maria Wyeth, a Hollywood actress in her early thirties. Fate has, in many ways, been unkind to her- her mother died in a car crash, her career is in trouble, her marriage to an uncaring husband is also failing and she has a mentally-handicapped daughter. Maria reacts by retreating into the sterile world occupied by most of the novel's other characters, one of casual and promiscuous sex, drink, drugs and "Ennui", both in its literal and its extended Baudelairean senses.

Told in a series of very short vignettes, the novel traces the progress of the disintegration of Maria's life. She is bullied into an abortion by her husband. (It is interesting that a novel by a woman writer treats abortion not as a woman's right but as another weapon of male dominance). Her marriage ends in divorce. In the final scene her moral nihilism means that she deliberately fails to prevent the suicide of a friend.

Much of the book is set in the deserts of southern California and Nevada, and Maria spends much of her time driving on long but aimless car journeys through this landscape. The imagery of the desert is clearly used to suggest the aridity of the spiritual world in which the characters live, and Maria's meaningless journeys are a symbol of her inability to escape this world.
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