Mighty Life List
Feb 18 2013

Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion

I’ll read anything by Joan Didion because she’s so skilled, but this is not an uplifting work. I once made the mistake of reading Metamorphosis on a beach vacation. Similarly, Play it as it Lays does not belong anywhere near sand. I had to skip Chapter 25. I know I probably cheated myself there, and yet. Still, you should read it. It’s very good.

The best parts of Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays:

NOTHING APPLIES, I print with the magnetized IBM pencil. What does apply, they ask later, as if the word “nothing” were ambiguous, open to interpretation, a questionable fragment of an Icelandic rune.

…just the snakes stretched out on the warm asphalt and my mother with a wilted gardenia in her dark hair and my father keeping a fifth of Jim Beam on the floorboard and talking about his plans, he always had a lot of plans, I never in my life had any plans none of it makes any sense, none of it adds up.

I’m not crazy about a lot of people. I mean maybe I was holding all the aces, but what was the game?

He was watching a very young girl in a white halter dress dancing on the terrace.
“I’d like to get into that,” he said contemplatively to BZ.
“I wouldn’t call it the impossible dream,” BZ said.

Only by an increased immobility did he acknowledge her presence.

She knew all the indices to the idle lonely, never bought a small tube of toothpaste, never dropped a magazine in her shopping cart. The house in Beverly Hills overflowed with sugar, corn-muffin mix, frozen roasts and Spanish onions. Maria ate cottage cheese.

All the daisies in the garden had been snapped by the wind.

…the infant in the driveway, rattlesnake in the playpen, the peril, unspeakable peril, in the everyday.

By the time Carter came back to town in February the dialogue was drained of energy, the marriage lanced.

By the end of the week, she was thinking constantly about where her body stopped and the air bgan, about the exat point in space and time that was the difference between Maria and other.

In the heat of some mornings she would wake with her eyes swollen and heavy and she would wonder if she had been crying.

Vocabulary
Krait — A highly venomous Asian snake (genus Bungarus) of the cobra family.
presentiment — An intuitive feeling about the future, esp. one of foreboding.
Macht nicht –An American spelling of the German expression “macht nichts” which means roughly, “it makes no difference.”
wen — Pathology a benign encysted tumor of the skin, especially on the scalp, containing sebaceous matter; a sebaceous cyst.

Note to self:
See Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight

Best parts of other books by Joan Didion:
The Year of Magical Thinking
Blue Nights
Democracy

Ed note: Ha! Just went to set this on my bookshelf and realized I already owned a copy. I attempted this one years ago, and abandoned the effort on page 40. Good thing I have a terrible memory for titles. Also, this was made into what looks like an awful movie in 1972.

2 Responses to “Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion”

  • meligrosa Says:

    This is wonderful, I have read so much in the last few months :)
    I recently re-read this piece, as I didn’t quite get her at all in my early twenties. Age does perspective a body of wonderful good.

    A visual chunk that has stayed with me is Maria driving on that freeway by 10. I copied/paste the exact words:

    “Outside she did not have to be afraid that she would not wake up, outside she could sleep. Sleep was essential if she was to be on the freeway by ten o’clock.

  • Paul Says:

    Play It As It Lays is one of the most iconic of all Joan Didion’s great writing. A writing lesson in every book.