“There hasn’t been another American writer of Joan Didion’s quality since Nathanael West.” —John Leonard, The New York Times. A marvel of compression written in spare, expertly honed prose, Play It As It Lays tells the story of minor Hollywood actress Maria Wyeth, in her early 30s, troubled, and the spiritually arid, drug-numbed world through which she moves. Divorced from her movie-director husband, mother of a little girl, Maria, an ex-model from a tiny Nevada town, is recovering from a breakdown as the novel opens. Via a series of taut, impressionistic scenes, the narrative surveys her path to the present, from a Silver Wells, Nevada, girlhood to Hollywood, a life marked, for Maria, by broken relationships, reliance on pills, and empty sex, and spent among play-acting narcissists. Written by an author with intimate knowledge of Hollywood, and one of our keenest observers of cultural emptiness, Play It As It Lays is harrowing, a brilliant, unsparing exploration of self-destructive lives. The novel’s hyper-vivid settings—Los Angeles during the searing Santa Ana winds, neon Las Vegas, sunblasted desert towns—are essential to its haunting atmosphere, one with hints of impending doom and shriveling sustenance. Here is the first-ever digital edition of a novel Time magazine named one of the Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005, a strikingly controlled book where Joan Didion discovered the perfect form for her unnerving, transfixing story.