REVIEW: PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, BY JOAN DIDION

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.***

REVIEW: LITTLE BLACK LIES, BY SANDRA BLOCK

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After finishing medical school at Yale, along with her internship, Zoe Goldman has returned to her hometown of Buffalo for her psychiatry residency. But coming home has brought some baggage with it.

Years ago, Zoe lost her birth mother in a fire, and has some physical and emotional scarring from the traumatic episode. In addition, Zoe has ADHD and some issues with compulsivity. She struggles with these issues, along with how coming home has caused old feelings to resurface. And now the nightmares have begun again.

How will Zoe manage her patient load while dealing with her own issues? Why is her adoptive mother, now suffering from dementia, hiding things from her? Was everything she was told a lie, or has her mother “forgotten” the facts due to her memory issues?

Little Black Lies is a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. I loved the mix of Zoe’s personal life with the issues of her patients. Why has one particular patient, Sofia Vallano, who incidentally killed her own mother when she was fourteen, started showing up in Zoe’s nightmares? Can Zoe find the answers to her own nebulous past? Will she discover the truth behind the lies? And when, in one horrifying moment, she does learn it all, will she survive it?

Finding the answers can be life-changing. There are still too many unanswered questions, Zoe realizes, and what is the truth? What are the lies? I liked this summation Zoe made: “Maybe the truth is this: There is no truth.”

A great story for those who enjoy suspense, mixed in with family issues. 5.0 stars.