Skip to main content

Book Review: Play It as It Lays

Author: Joan Didion
Published: 2005 (Originally 1970)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Number of Pages: 213
My Rating: 3

Summary from
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.

I originally discovered Play It as It Lays on a list of books that everyone should read at some point in their life. Thinking this was a pretty prestigious distinction, I quickly tried to find it in a local store or thrift shop. Turns out, this book was a lot harder to find than others (not even on Kindle!), making me want it that much more.

A novel in snippets, Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays begins with three passages that are narrated in first person by three of the main characters- Maria, her husband Carter, and their friend Helene. The rest of the book is comprised of 84 pieces of lyrical prose written in the third person from Maria’s point of view. What emerges from these pieces is a glimpse into the blurry world of a depressed, would-be starlet, wife, and mother whose world has essentially fallen apart and stopped.

It seemed to me that Maria is an actress with nothing but a lot of money and a lot of time on her hands. She is a beautiful woman with blank eyes that cares about nothing and no one. Her world is bleak and is one you shouldn’t visit for too long otherwise it will completely suck the life out of you. This book made me feel the same way that The Bell Jar did- totally hopeless.

Aside from the beautiful lyrical prose Didion presents, I think the inner struggle in Maria is what makes the story worth reading. The book covers topics such as depression, drugs, abortion, and affairs. Keep in mind that this book first came out in the 1970’s, and think of what a shock this must have been. I imagine women and their friends secretly passed this book around in a shushed manner, gossiping and discussing the taboo topics Didion covered.

This book was the hangover of a 1970’s Hollywood party- the booze wasn’t strong enough, cars not fast enough, and people not interesting enough anymore. There was bleakness to the world after everyone partied too hard for too long and Maria was the perfect person to portray that through. This book was simply an ugly, beautiful disaster. And Didion put it all down on paper for us to be depressed about for years to come.

-Busy Brunette


  1. Hi there! I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award because I really enjoy reading your blog. It's awesome. Keep up the good work! Check out my post to learn more about the Liebster Award:

    1. You are so sweet! You have no idea how happy this makes me :) I will look into it and definitely get started on that. Thank you!

  2. Hey there! I nominated you for the Awards too. ;D Check it out here: I read your reviews, they are pretty good. Following you now. ;) Check out my blog too. c:

  3. I read this book last week because I saw it on a similar list. I'm still recovering.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: Before We Were Yours

My Rating: 5
It has been about a month since I finished this book and it honestly took me that long to recover enough in order to write a review.
Before We Were Yours is one of the best books I have ever read, and if you know me at all, you would realize I don’t toss that statement around lightly. By saying that, however, in no way am I saying that this is a happy read, because it is also one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I have ever read in my life, as well.
Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals (although the main characters are fictional), the story is that of Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, who would kidnap poor children and then sell them to wealthy families all over the country from the 1920s through the 1950s.
Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four siblings are the victims of this type of crime, and half of the book is their journey and fight to get back home. The other half is that of present-day Avery, a prose…

Book Review: Pretty Girls

My Rating: 4
Have you ever read a book that was so dark and twisted that you literally felt like you lost a piece of your innocence after finishing it? Yeah, that’s what I felt as I was reading Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter.
Needless to say, this book threw me for quite the loop. I was expecting a story about missing girls (which I got), what I wasn’t expecting, however, was an extremely graphic tale of violence and gore full of shocking scenarios and senseless acts that would leave me slightly traumatized and lying awake at night thinking about (which is what I also got).
I’m not trying to be dramatic with this review, but honestly, this book will seriously mess you up. It is not at all for the faint of heart and it will exhaust you every time you finish a chapter. Still with me? Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Pretty Girls was a crazy psychological thriller that continued to throw plot twists and mysteries at me until I didn’t think I could handle it anymore, then it took a sharp left…

Book Review: The Good Widow

My Rating: 4
I finished this book in under two days. TWO DAYS. Given the fact that I have a toddler now, that's saying something.

The Good Widow is about Jacks, a woman who finds out that her husband has died in a tragic car accident when on his business trip to Kansas. Or so she thought. Turns out he died in Hawaii… with another woman.

Now Jacks is left with not only the devastating blow that her husband was lying to her about his whereabouts, but also the fact that he was having an affair, as well. She is trying to pick up the pieces of her life when the other woman’s fiancĂ© arrives at her door, left with the same questions Jacks has about the mystery surrounding their deaths. Together, they will try to find out the truth about who their significant others really were.

The book had a lot of twists and turns I never saw coming. I liked how it switched perspectives and timelines of before/after the accident, as I felt this made the pace go a lot faster. The feelings the characters had…