Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

September 8, JFK-SFO: Didion writes an exquisite exploration of deep, deep sadness and depression. Maria (“Mar-eye-ah”) Wyeth is a beautiful film actress with a director husband and a house in 1970s Beverly Hills. She is also in the midst of a slow, slow slide into absolute catatonic depression. Her daughter is very sick, her marriage and friendships offer no succor, her career is at a standstill, and she has already made a habit out of spending each day just driving the freeways of Los Angeles before she has the abortion that then begins to plague her mentally.

I identified with this book when I read it. This was the sort of absolute rock bottom I thought I was aspiring to. Another of the badges of sadness I wanted to hang on my lapel. This is a dangerous book. Weaponized in the hands of the lonely and depressed. Do not lend this book to your friends who you think will identify with it. They will.

It’s also a fantastic book. Such a sharply illustrated picture of the emotional emptiness of the sex-and-drugs Hollywood glamor lifestyle. Of course Maria Wyeth is depressed: her family is a wreck, her friends are all terrible people, their libertine lifestyle is completely empty and destructive.

There was a beat at the very end that I missed in my reading until this time. In the final pages, as BZ readies to off himself, he explains to Maria that the two of them know something special: what it is like to feel nothing. At the end, Maris explains to the reader that BZ saw nothing and wanted to quit. But she learned, while learning craps from her father, to play it where it lays. And so she’ll keep playing, staring that nothing in the face. The strangest of up-notes to end this book on.

Play it as It Lays is available for purchase at your local internet superstore.

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