A marvel of compression written in spare, expertly honed prose, Play It As It Lays tells the story of minor Hollywood actress Maria Wyeth, in her early 30s, troubled, and the spiritually arid, drug-numbed world through which she moves. Divorced from her movie-director husband, mother of a little girl, Maria, an ex-model from a tiny Nevada town, is recovering from a breakdown as the novel opens. Via a series of taut, impressionistic scenes, the narrative surveys her path to the present, from a Silver Wells, Nevada, girlhood to Hollywood, a life marked, for Maria, by broken relationships, reliance on pills, and empty sex, and spent among play-acting narcissists. Written by an author with intimate knowledge of Hollywood, and one of our keenest observers of cultural emptiness, Play It As It Lays is harrowing, a brilliant, unsparing exploration of self-destructive lives.
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Didion recalls writing things down as early as age five, though she says she never saw herself as a writer until after her work had been published. She read everything she could get her hands-on, and she even needed written permission from her mother to borrow adult books—biographies especially—from the library at a young age.
She identified as a "shy, bookish child" who pushed herself to overcome social anxiety through acting and public speaking. In or early , her family returned to Sacramento, and her father went to Detroit to negotiate defense contracts for World War II. Didion wrote in her memoir Where I Was From that moving so often made her feel like a perpetual outsider. Writer and friend John Gregory Dunne helped her edit the book, and the two moved into an apartment together.
A year later they married, and Didion returned to California with her new husband. In , she published her first work of nonfiction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem , a collection of magazine pieces about her experiences in California. The following year, she published the novel Democracy , which narrates the story of a long but unrequited love affair between a wealthy heiress and an older man, a CIA officer, against the background of the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
Her nonfiction book Miami looked at the Cuban expatriate community in that city. Dunne and Didion worked closely together for most of their careers. Much of their writing is therefore intertwined. In , she began working on a one-woman stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking. Although she was at first hesitant about writing for the theater, she has since found the genre, which was new to her, to be quite exciting.
It remains untitled. It addresses their relationship with "stunning frankness. This style is also described as creative nonfiction, intimate journalism, or literary nonfiction. It is a popular moment in the long history of literary journalism in America. Tom Wolfe , who along with E. Johnson edited the anthology The New Journalism , and wrote a manifesto for the style that popularized the term, pointed to the idea that "it is possible to write journalism that would The style gives the author more creative freedom.
Exhibiting subjectivity is a major theme in New Journalism. Didion includes her personal feelings and memories in this first person narrative, describing the chaos of individuals and the way in which they perceive the world.
Here Didion rejects conventional journalism, and instead prefers to create a subjective approach to essays, a style that is her own. Writing style and themes[ edit ] Didion views the structure of the sentence as essential to what she is conveying in her work. In The New York Times article, Why I Write  Didion remarks, "To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind Other influences include writer Henry James , who wrote "perfect, indirect, complicated sentences" and George Eliot.
This happens not during the writing, but during the research. At the end of the day, Didion must take a break from writing to remove herself from the "pages". Didion spends a great deal of time cutting out and editing her prose before concluding her evening. The next day, Didion begins by looking over her work from the previous evening, making further adjustments as she sees fit. As this process culminates, Didion feels that it is necessary to sleep in the same room as her book.
Quotes from Play It as It Lays
Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. February Snakes[ edit ] Rattlesnakes appear throughout the book, mostly denoting personalized danger and the threat of male predators. In an introductory monologue, Maria wonders why a coral snake needs "two glands of neurotoxic poison to survive, while a king snake , so similarly marked, needs none". Maria tells Carter a story about a man who wanted to talk to God and was later found dead, "bitten by a rattlesnake". In world religions, the snake appears as a Biblical tempter, an agent in ritual suicides, an author of stratagems, and the symbol of fertility in general and male sexuality in particular. In "The Philadelphia Journal", Benjamin Franklin suggested the female rattlesnake as a symbol of America : "The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies". Hummingbird[ edit ] Maria watches a hummingbird while in the psychiatric ward.
Play It As It Lays Quotes
Some people ask. I never ask. I know what "nothing" means, and keep on playing. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life.