Spare, elegant, and terrifying, Play It as It Lays is the unforgettable story of a woman and a society come undone.
Raised in the ghost town of Silver Wells, Nevada, Maria Wyeth is an ex-model and the star of two films directed by her estranged husband, Carter Lang. But in the spiritual desert of 1960s Los Angeles, Maria has lost the plot of her own life. Her daughter, Kate, was born with an “aberrant chemical in her brain.” Her long-troubled marriage has slipped beyond repair, and her disastrous love affairs and strained friendships provide little comfort. Her only escape is to get in her car and drive the freeway—in the fast lane with the radio turned up high—until it runs out “somewhere no place at all where the flawless burning concrete just stopped.” But every ride to nowhere, every sleepless night numbed by pills and booze and sex, makes it harder for Maria to find the meaning in another day.
My Thoughts: Joining the journey of Maria Wyeth in Play It as It Lays felt like a descent. A slow unraveling of a woman who has found no meaning in her life, and who will end up with nothing left.
Mariah has finally come full circle and is under the care of psychiatrists, in a place where she can turn her life over to others.
In a non-linear narrative, we watch Mariah’s life in flashbacks. Anything she sees in the world around her can send her back to moments in another time or place. Some happy moments, and as she grasps for feelings of connection, she can hang on a little longer. Images of her daughter Kate feel the most poignant, and sometimes she seems to be grasping for time with her again, but she also realizes that these hopes are impossible.
Watching a young woman destroy herself slowly, and seeing those around her enable her, felt like an insidious train wreck. Self-destruction takes time, but when it finally happens, you almost feel relieved. A beautifully written story that literally depressed me. 4.5 stars.***