Friday, February 6, 2009

Understated prose

I finished Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion for class a couple days ago. The only thing I've read of Didion before this was A Year of Magical Thinking, which I loved. Of course, knowing all of that, I was very curious to find out what kind of fiction writer she is.

Play It As It Lays is really accessible. Written with deceptively simple, sparse prose, it was a quick read. But I must say, the detached way it deals with some of the nitty gritty was simply cringe-worthy. But in a good way.

For instance, there's a scene where the protagonist gets an abortion. It's done in this horrible, detached way, where Maria is trying to focus on other things, other thoughts and this "scraping" noise and the doctor says something like, "Don't scream, Maria, people will hear you, it's not that bad". You don't even get from the narrator (a 3rd person close) that she's screaming, so that kind of outside detail totally hits you. In fact, any evidence of emotion is never disclosed by the third person narration, even though it very well could. Which struck me as interesting.

The depiction of the abortion made me, as a woman, cringe. I'm very strongly pro-choice, but this idea of a forced abortion was something that I could very easily identify with as being a traumatic experience. That was one of the hardest scenes to get through for me. Though, honestly, there's a ton of sections that are easy to read but HARD to get through if you know what I mean. I sometimes couldn't bear it. Not because it was over the top painful, but because it was so understated that it made me squirm, knowing what lay beneath.

The near-ending is sad. So sad, in fact, that my professor, who was reading it out loud to us today in class, teared up and got all choked up. But again, it's understated, and that's what makes it so powerful.

I enjoy Didion's prose, I really do. I wasn't sure how I'd like this book since stories about starlets living in the whole sex and drugs industry isn't really my thing. But Didion somehow makes it accessible and gritty while still maintaining a sense of sad beauty.

I liked this.

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