Play It as It Lays

( 16 )

Overview

A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil-literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul-it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman ...

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Overview

A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil-literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul-it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.

Maria Wyeth is an emotional drifter who has become almost anesthetized against pain and pleasure. She is radically divorced from her husband, lovers, friends, past and future, a woman finally touched only by her neurally damaged daughter, Kate, and by the child she has willfully aborted.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

John Leonard
There hasn't been another American writer of Joan Didion's quality since Nathanael West…A terrifying book.
The New York Times
J. Frakes
[A] scathing novel, distilling venom in tiny drops, revealing devastation in a sneer and fear in a handful of atomic dust.
Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374529949
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/15/2005
  • Edition description: Second Edition, Revised Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 214
  • Sales rank: 77,170
  • Product dimensions: 5.65 (w) x 8.29 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Didion is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as several screenplays written with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne. She lives in New York City.

Biography

One of the strongest voices in American letters, Joan Didion has made her mark with fiercely intelligent novels (Play It As It Lays, A Book of Common Prayer), insightful nonfiction (Salvador, Political Fictions), and screenplays co-written with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne (Panic in Needle Park, Up Close and Personal).

Born in Sacramento, Didion attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1956 with a degree in English. After college, she moved to New York to work for Vogue magazine. Recognized immediately as a talented and insightful writer, she contributed frequently to such diverse publications as Mademoiselle, Esquire, The New York Times, and National Review; and in 1963 she published her first novel, Run River. She and Dunne were wed in 1964; and for the remainder of their married life, they divided their time between New York and L.A., collaborating frequently on Hollywood scripts while developing separate and distinguished literary careers.

In December of 2003, Dunne died of a massive heart attack, while the couple's recently married daughter, Quintana Roo, lay comatose in a New York hospital. Didion spent the next year blindsided by a grief so profound it propelled her into a sort of madness. She chronicled the entire experience in The Year of Magical Thinking, a spellbinding memoir of bereavement written in the spare, elegant prose that has become a hallmark of her work. Published in 2005 (scant months after Quintana's death), this elegiac book -- Didion's most personal and affecting work to date -- became a huge bestseller. It received a National Book Award and was turned, two years later, into a successful Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave.

Since her 1963 debut, Didion has alternated between novels and nonfiction, proving herself a wry and astute observer of America's shifting political and cultural landscape. Written nearly a decade apart, her two essay collections Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) are considered classics of 1960s counterculture. Moreover, the author's identity as a seventh-generation Californian has colored her writing in profoundly significant ways. For our money, no contemporary American writer has examined more deftly the unique role of "place" in everyday life.

Good To Know

A few interesting outtakes from our interview with Didion:

"My first (and only, ever) job was at Vogue. I learned a great deal there – I learned how to use words economically (because I was writing to space), I learned how to very quickly take in enough information about an entirely foreign subject to produce a few paragraphs that at least sounded authoritative."

"I would like my readers to know that writing never gets any easier. You don't gain confidence. You are always flying blind."

Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, co-wrote seven screenplays, including: The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Play It As It Lays (1973), A Star Is Born (1977), True Confessions (1982), Hills Like White Elephants (1990), Broken Trust(1995) and Up Close and Personal (1995).

She is the sister-in-law of author Dominick Dunne and the aunt of actor/director Griffin Dunne.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 5, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2010

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    Cryptic madness at its best

    The startling frankness of the narrative will keep you turning pages. A brutal story of stark reality told masterfully. Follow Maria's self destructive path "into the hard white empty core of the world."

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  • Posted October 19, 2008

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    Unforgiving in showcasing flawed characters

    There isn't one character in this novel, including the protagonist Maria Wyeth, that is perfect or altruistic or flawless in any way and Didion grabs onto that aspect and soaks every last drop of it into the pages. Who says the story's hero has to be perfect, make all the right choices, say all the right things, want to do right by the world and their loved ones. People like that don't exist and Joan Didion knows that, and refuses to write people like that. She writes as people act - flawed, selfish, absorbed in their own problems and issues and dramas. This is life, at its saddest and scariest. <BR/><BR/>If you start this book, you have to finish it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2007

    One of Didions best!

    I absolutely loved this book! VERY SHORT AND EASY READ! but it really changed my point of view on things as didion has a strange way of doing in all of her novels but I really enjoyed this one about a corrupt actress of the 60s..what life was like behind the golden curtain. BRILLIANT!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2007

    Late 1960s Celeb Decadence and Disillusionment

    I just finished this book and I'm trying to organize my thoughts about it. First off, it's an easy read...a short novel with brief, bite-sized chapters. The novel centers on a female character (a model, turned actress) who appears to be going through life as if she's numb to just about everything. The synopsis on the back of the book states that the story is about the exploration of a woman and a society in crisis. I wouldn't go so far as to agree with that statement, but I would agree that the main character and her social circle are living on the edge.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2006

    You've gotta know what you're looking for...

    If you're looking for an easy, non-symbolic, basic storyline...look elsewhere. This book has NUMEROUS undertones of symbolism that is unmatched. Especially look for the recurring images of water (both explicit and implied). She creates a masterful piece and uses perfect wording to draw up her points. Very highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2004

    One of the seminal works of the twentieth century.

    joan didion is one of the most underrated, unequivocally genius writers that america has ever spawned. her writing is spare, austere, and perfectly morose and funny and disturbing all at once. you can see a lot of her influence today in many of our on-the-fringe writers, especially bret easton ellis. but her writing contains a timelessness that her spawn do not have. i've read this book repeatedly and it never fails to amaze me. wow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2000

    Amazing

    This is Didion at her best. Her portrayal of Maria, the woman destroyed by her celebrity life, is profoundly disturbing, even today. Maria's mentality is summed up in her first monologue: 'I've been working very hard at not thinking about how everything goes. I watch the hummingbird, throw the I Ching, but never read the coins, keep my mind in the now.'

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