Play It as It Lays Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 44 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Play It as It Lays.
This section contains 630 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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Play It as It Lays Summary & Study Guide Description

Play It as It Lays Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion.

Maria Wyeth grew up in the Las Vegas desert with a gambling father and mother. She didn't know what she would end up doing in life, but she knew she wasn't going to live in the desert forever.

She eventually ends up in Beverly Hills, married to a filmmaker, Carter. Maria stars in his first two films as the lead actress and so begins their Hollywood life. They have a daughter, Kate, who is in a mental institution. They rarely get a chance to visit her, and when they do, the visits are dramatic and emotional.

This life is a gamble, just as Maria's father said it would be: the parties and fame and fortune and drugs and alcohol eventually drive a wedge between Maria and Carter.

Carter's first two films, the ones that Maria acted in, have made him a huge success and a much sought-after film director. Maria is proud to have been part of those early films, but quickly becomes jealous of her husband's newfound fame and all those who are clamoring for his attention. His new fame means many film offers for him and he is frequently on location, far away from Maria.

In her husband's absence, Maria misses the attention she received as an actress and begins going to parties and drinking too much. She begins having an affair with Les Goodwin, a family friend. She calls her agent for more acting work. Upon getting the work, she decides she'd rather not do it. Then she changes her mind and says yes—any work is better than idly sitting around, drinking way too much at parties and sleeping in late.

While Carter is still on location, Maria accidentally becomes pregnant while sleeping with Les Goodwin. For several weeks Maria notices the signs in her body, but refuses to acknowledge what has happened. She tells herself she is imagining it and will not admit she is pregnant. When Carter comes home from being on location for a few days, Maria finally gets up the courage to tell him. Carter gives her the name of a doctor who can perform a discreet, safe abortion. Maria tries to get out of it several times and begins fantasizing about what her life would be like if she could keep the baby. But Carter stays on her and she eventually finds herself in a house in Encino, where the abortion is performed.

The abortion is the beginning of Maria's final unraveling. Her inability to see her daughter Kate for longer periods of time, her inability to get work as a leading film actress, her husband's constant absence and being forced to give up a baby she secretly wanted to keep all reduce Maria to a shadow of her former self. Maria and Carter eventually divorce, and her only contact with him is via BZ who updates Maria on Carter's whereabouts, on what film he's shooting and when, and who he's dating and why.

Alone and in despair, Maria slowly loses control by taking more drugs, drinking heavily, and refusing to leave her house for days at a time. When BZ and Helene try to help her, try to get her to clean herself up and focus on getting better, Maria pushes them away too.

These events, coupled with the pseudo-glossy veneer of Hollywood, cause Maria to lose her sense of identity. She drifts among the characters that populate Los Angeles and the desert just outside Las Vegas and wonders if she'll be dealt a winning hand or if the darker side of Hollywood will destroy her.

When Maria makes her way to the desert for Carter's most recent film and finds that Carter is having an affair with Helene, BZ's wife, all bets are off.

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This section contains 630 words
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