Saying it all, in one brief scene.


I’m only a little more than half way through my latest read, yet I feel compelled to blog about it.  The book – Joan Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS.  Pure brilliance.  Didion does what every writer strives to accomplish, she doesn’t tell you a story.  She shows you.  She writes about her main character, a beautiful out of work actress in Los Angeles, separating from her husband, and then she puts forth the following short chapter.  It says it all:

     SHE HAD WATCHED THEM in supermarkets and she knew the signs.  At seven o’clock on a Saturday evening they would be standing in the checkout line reading the horoscope in Harper’s Bazaar and in their carts would be a single lamb chop and maybe two cans of cat food and the Sunday morning paper, the early edition with the comics wrapped outside.  They would be very pretty some of the time, their skirts the right length and their sunglasses the right tint and maybe only a little vulnerable tightness around the mouth, but there they were, one lamb chop and some cat food and the morning paper.  To avoid giving off the signs, Maria shopped always for a household, gallons of grapefruit juice, quarts of green chile salsa, dried lentils and alphabet noodles, rigatoni and canned yams, twenty-pound boxes of laundry detergent. She knew all the indices of the idle lonely, never bought a small tube of toothpaste, never dropped a magazine in her shopping cart. The house in Beverly Hills overflowed with sugar, corn-muffin mix, frozen roasts and Spanish onions.  Maria ate cottage cheese.

Didion’s simple description of a visit to the grocery store gives us greater insight into her character’s state of mind than a twenty page write-up telling us exactly what Maria was feeling about her divorce.  It’s perfect. Based on this one chapter alone, I give PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, an A++.

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