Review: Play It As It Lays

I’m slowly closing in on my TIME Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century goal. After this, just one book remains!

Image courtesy Farrar Straus & Giroux

Author: Joan Didion

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.73 stars

Language scaling: B1+

Plot summary: The life and breakdown of the fictional actress Maria Wyeth during the late 1960s.

Content warning: Lots of substance abuse and an overdose; off-screen (off-page?) domestic violence; abortion

Recommended audience: Those interested in modernist literature; those interested in feminist literature; those interested in character studies; those interested in mid-century Americana.

In-depth thoughts: Play It as It Lays is an ideal book for EFL students: serious, compelling concepts are explored in short chapters of light, lucid prose. The net result is that you can pick up and put down around the book other things you might have going on in your life. Also, there’s a movie version starring Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins.

Many of the reviews I’ve read for Play It as It Lays call it “depressing,” even “terrifying,” but I largely suspect that response has to do with how squeamish you are about abortion (and how squeamish you are about women feeling, at worst, vague and ambiguous about getting abortions, rather than eternally regretful and emotionally destroyed). I liked Didion’s writing and was happy to hitch a ride with Maria Wyeth for a while to visit her gilded cage of a world, but nothing about it shook me to my core. (Maybe that’s how you know you’re depressed? Hm.)

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