Play It As It Lays

By Joan Didion
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for March 2012

Discussion Questions


  1. In the introduction to the novel, Didion’s use of point of view is addressed. The author states:  “I wanted to make it all first person, but I wasn’t good enough to maintain a first…So I began playing with a ‘close third’…. Very close to the mind of the character.” Although this suggests a decision by default, how does the point of view advance the theme of the novel? Did you find that it brought about a better understanding of the interior lives of the characters and their connections to one another, or did it create a fragmented narrative?
  2. David Thomson writes in the introduction, “I’m not sure that classics or novels are meant to be flawless. Like golden bowls, sometimes the fascination is in the mysterious crack.” Do you agree? What is the ‘crack’ in Play It As It Lays? Could this idea of the ‘crack’ be applied to the characters?
  3. What did you make of the form of the novel? Do the short chapters and italicized portions contribute to your understanding of the narrative?
  4. How does this novel treat Hollywood and the film industry? Do you think Didion’s perspective and treatment of these characters and situations is accurate?
  5. Why is Maria paralyzed? What makes it so difficult for her to connect to those around her? Is she a sympathetic character? Why does she ‘drive’?
  6. In what ways does Didion comment on the role women played in 1960s society? From her secret abortion at a home in Encino to her drifting ways, Maria does not fall into the stereotype of a “housewife”. What does this character say about the struggles and desires of women?
  7. How is mental illness portrayed in this book? What effect does mental illness, in one’s self, in their children, in the people around them—have on life and one’s ability to make rational decisions?
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