Play It As It Lays is a novel written by Joan Didion. It is largely about Maria Wyeth's quest to find meaning in her life as she navigates a complicated web of emotions, societal expectations, and past memories. Throughout the novel, Maria finds herself struggling to reconcile her upbringing and society's social structure with her own suppressed views and feelings. Maria actually conforms and succumbs to people's norms and pressures, including those of the men whom she has sexual encounters with despite being married.
In particular, her mother's death and the abortion she was forced to have after having multiple affairs makes her feel confused and guilty. Amazingly, the very same events that cause her social isolation and resentment of society's expectations of her also lead her to remember her mother's qualities and admire her own beauty. Later in the novel, Maria forms her own identity. In one instance, she looks into the mirror and identifies her mother's features instead of seeing herself as property of her husband, Carter. This signals a shift in her attitudes about her own self-worth.
Towards the end of the novel, Maria begins to strongly miss her mother, but she cannot reconnect with her in person, only in memory. Because of the absence of her mother, who had passed away, she seeks comfort. In that effort, she expresses to Carter and others that she is becoming ill due to their treatment and attitudes toward her. She also expresses a strong desire to take Kate, her daughter, from Carter and live with her alone so she can bond with her and raise her with a different environment and a whole new outlook on life. Maria emerges as a hero at the end of the novel, and her story can be inspiring to many women, both young and old, who are rediscovering their own identities.