Deliciously Addicting: Didion’s Play It as It Lays

I began reading Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays over Spring Break with the idea that since I have already read so much of her nonfiction, I should sample one of her novels. To say I wasn’t prepared for the emotional onslaught is an understatement.

Her opening line intrigued me. “What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask.” The book’s main character, Maria, speaks those cryptic lines, foreshadowing the messy disintegration of lives we as readers are about to witness.

The book is comprised of short chapters, each from a particular character’s point of view. Much like my consumption of M&M’s, I found it impossible to stop at just one…or two…or… You get my point.

Play It as It Lays has been called a Hollywood novel, but it’s so much more than that. In fact, although they live in Hollywood and work in the film industry, most of the defining scenes are in the desert. Its blank expanse serves as a clear backdrop for the character’s larger-than-life egos and overbearing personalities.

Vegas also has a pointed appearance, but gambling and drugs certainly aren’t contained within its borders.

“You told me you’d come,” Carter said.
“What for.”
“I want you out there.”
“It’s all gone, you said so yourself.”
“All right,” Carter said. “Stay here and kill yourself.
Something interesting like that.”
Carter and BZ and Helene left for the desert. Maria
found a doctor who would give her barbiturates again,
and in the evenings she drove.

Every character has so many faults, it’s hard to find anyone to blame. They blame each other constantly, pointing fingers left and right. In the beginning Helene says, “She was always a very selfish girl, it was first last and always Maria.”

In many ways, this is true. But Maria certainly isn’t the only selfish one. Although each character’s actions deserve reproach, I was unable to identify the defining moment of condemnation.

All in all, I highly recommend anyone looking for a quick taste of Didion fiction to pick up Play It as It Lays and experience for yourself its delectable descent toward the point of no return.

Joan Didion will give a reading in McAlister Auditorium at Tulane University on Monday, April 6th, at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public.


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