*Warning: A Main Course Book Bite due to content
“What came in on the next roll would always be better than what went out on the last”—Maria Wyeth
The novel begins with Maria Wyeth, formerly, Maria Wyeth-Lang, reflecting on the events that led her to her commitment to a mental institution. Maria has no emotion when telling her story because she was never an active participant in her own life.
Maria did as she was told—she became an actress to fulfill her mother’s dream of becoming an actress. She became a wife mimicking what her husband, Carter Lang, wanted for a wife. And then she was a mistress, a friend, and even a sometimes stand-in for a daughter-in-law.
Finally, Maria is someone who waited with a man as he commits suicide so he wouldn’t die alone. She did as she was told and if she questioned the directions given her, she’d swallow that question like a handful of pills washed down with a fifth of vodka.
Play It as It Lays is a hauntingly beautiful story, written about a place and time often glorified as the swinging ’60s in Hollywood, California. Joan Didion is precise and blunt writing a fictional story (smacking of hard-core fact) of self-examination before the reality of how complicit one was in their own life settles in.
This is a cautionary tale of what happens when one is not the hero of their own life story.