Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays is brilliant and heartbreaking. It packs more raw tragedy into its 214 pages than entire bookshelves can hold.
Maria Wyeth was a promising actress who starred in two feature films (one distributed) directed by her husband. But now Maria’s career has fizzled, her marriage is on the rocks, and her four-year-old daughter is institutionalized because she has “an aberrant chemical in her brain.”
Maria is heading for a big crack up. But before she gets there, she has to face an abortion, various adulteries, some rough sex, prescription drug issues, and jaded Hollywood ennui.
Didion’s novel is bleak, spare, and cold. The characters – even Maria – are not given to introspection. The scenes in the book feel like movie shots, with the emotion coming from what is seen and heard, not what is going on inside anyone’s head.
The abortion theme is particularly brutal – this book does for abortion rights what Looking for Mr. Goodbar does for sexual independence – but the whole book is difficult. It will leave a stain on the psyche.
NOTESThis book appears on the All-TIME Top 100 list and Erica Jong's list of Top 100 books by women.
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