Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion

Play it as it Lays is the first novel I've read by Joan Didion, and I'm sorry it took me so long. That chapters are scenes more than anything else, mostly observed from the outside, with a few deep visits to Maria's (Mar-eye-ah's) innermost thoughts. It is no surprise that Didion and her late husband wrote screenplays as well.

Despite its few characters, this book is known for capturing "the mood of an entire generation, the emptiness and ennui of contemporary society." Curious. Who alive in the '60s would agree? It certainly captured this mood within Maria, and, for that matter, Helene and BZ. 

The notion of general devastation had for Maria a certain sedative effect (the rattlesnake in the playpen, that was different, that was particular, that was punitive), suggested an instant in which all anxieties would be abruptly gratified, and between the earthquake prophecy and the marijuana and the cheerful detachment of the woman whose house was in the Tajunga Wash, she felt a kind of resigned tranquility.
— Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays

This book has probably lived as long as it has because Maria is so captivating. She is an orphan, having lost her mother treacherously in the desert and her father a few years later. She must be very beautiful, because she was a model and actress and seemed to, despite her depressed state, attract and maintain the care and attention of many lovers. She has a young child in someone else's care. She had an unborn child. She has a house but sleeps on the lawn chair outside by the pool. She has money, or enough to take random flights, drives, etc. But she did not always need money for that. She'd happily take the first care with keys in the ignition, whether or not it was her own. She is a leaf, floating along with whatever life events, but she is also strong in her resolution to disengage. If Carter says, come to the set, she says, "Maybe later" but you know she won't. It is not whimsy. It is not weakness. It is independence. But this independence does not appear satisfying in the least. It is independence from life's very seams. She is unthreaded.

You talk crazy any more and I’ll leave.
Leave. For Christ’s sake leave.
She would not take her eyes from the dry wash. All right.
Don’t, he would say then. Don’t.
Why do you say those things. Why do you fight.
He would sit on the bed and put his head in his hands. To find out if you’re alive.
— Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays

Having read this not so long after Sex and Rage, I remain mystified by the West Coast vibe of the 60s and 70s. What produced in so many people the desire for or acceptance of self destruction? In both books, the main characters experience some kind of redemption in the form of, 'I survived it', but that, alone, is haunting. Oh, to travel time beyond books.

I know what ‘nothing’ means, and keep on playing.
Why, BZ would say.
Why not, I say.
— Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays