Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion


This book describes a particular kind of unhappiness very well. In excellent, biting prose. It’s clear from reading Joan Didion’s nonfiction that this tale of a semi-famous Californian woman staggering through an empty emotional/physical landscape, crying much of the time, is at least somewhat autobiographical.

I like when books use their physicality to convey meaning. Play it as it Lays greatly varies chapter and paragraph length, using the white space to augment the text’s description of the protagonist’s state of mind.

The atmosphere is oppressive; the desert heat and the freeway figure prominently. There’s a scene in a hot spring destination in the desert and a description of its patrons as old people who had reached the point in life where they sought restoration in desolation. The image immediately burned itself into my mind and sticks with me more than anything else in the book.

It’s a short, tense book that has a stretched feeling to it. Not in a bad way. More like, how can our train-wreck of a heroine even make it to the next page?

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