Though most people think essays1 when talking Joan Didion, Dan and I read her best known novel for the podcast. Play it as it Lays is the story of an actor whose journey oscillates between dizzying and domestic, as her acting career slows and her personal life collapses. While running barely 200 pages, the book has a quality of being adrift to it that connects directly to Didion’s belief that who we are is affected by where we are.
It’s clear that her reputation is well earned, and I appreciate what’s regarded as Didion’s “Hollywood” book, but I can’t say I’ll be returning to it any time soon. Like her essays, the novel is fragmented in a way that creates an aspect not of closure but its opposite, a kind of frantic recognition that all stories have holes and flaws and will collapse, eventually. The story mirrors LA’s mix of grimness and glamour, and echoes one of her core beliefs: all of us are in some essential fashion, “working” in the dark.
Which is why Dan sleeps with a nightlight on, to this day.
We hope you enjoy this discussion on Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays.