Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays is a stark novel, unsettling and jarring in both its content and layout.
The layout is startling. Many of the chapters are little more than a few paragraphs. In the hands of other, less skilled writers, this could be viewed as a cop out. But in this novel the white space has a place of great importance. As Maria starts and finishes her Hollywood journey, more and more silences will prevail.
In in those chapters of a few paragraphs, Didion manages to convey a great deal with very few words. There is the taut sense that bad things will happen, that they are inevitable, but we don’t know their degree of severity. In this way, Didion keeps her readers as off balanced as her characters.
We, just as they, do not know what will come next. And this marriage of imperfect information and authorial intention make for very good reading indeed.