Play It as It Lays

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Novel by Joan Didion, published in 1970.

Maria Wyeth, a 31-year-old former motion-picture actress, separated from her husband Carter, a film director, and the mother of Kate, a retarded, institutionalized child, reaches a degree of nihilism so intense that day after day she leaves her Beverly Hills house to drive aimlessly on the freeways of southern California. When she discovers that she is pregnant by Carter, who persuades her to have an abortion, her depression is deepened and she gives herself to meaningless, frenetic sex. She has a nervous breakdown, and in the institution to which she is sent for cure she dreams of a time when she and Kate can be together in a happy home, but she is determined that whatever happens she will not resort to suicide but live instead with the knowledge of “what nothing means and keep on playing.”

Subjects: Literature.

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Joan Didion (b. 1934)

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