This book took me by surprise. I read Just Kids earlier this year after hearing a lot of buzz about it, but not really knowing much about Patti Smith herself. Perhaps because I didn’t come to her book as a fan of her as an artist, I didn’t have the same craving for celebrity tell-all revelations and didn’t much care about her career. What I did care about was how her mind worked and her heartbreaking love for her lover and friend, Robert Mapplethorpe.
The first half of Just Kids was a beautifully written, meandering and starry-eyed account of two kids finding their way in the bohemian subculture of 1960s and ’70s New York. Her prose betrayed her poetic background and also showed us the idealistic and innocent girl she was (and probably to some extent never grew out of being). I adored the slow progression of her story and how she savoured words, selecting them carefully and creating a picture that I couldn’t help falling into.
I wasn’t as crazy about the second half of the book, which shifted focus from her simultaneous love affairs with Mapplethorpe and the city of New York to her career progression and brushes with celebrities. I understood that this was what many people came to her book looking for, but for me it just felt forced and vain.
It wasn’t until reading M Train that I realized that perhaps the tone in the latter half of Just Kids that alienated me wasn’t as narcissism as I had at first assumed, rather a result of her writing in a way and about topics that didn’t draw her. In retrospect I wonder if the last half of Just Kids lost me because it wasn’t part of her story she felt drawn to write, rather feeling that she had to force it to give readers what they wanted. The lifeblood of her writing is that she imbues it with every emotion she’s experiencing, and that she lets her mind take her wherever it wants to go. In M Train she seemed to give it free reign with, in my opinion, stunning results.
The book isn’t a straight-up memoir. It’s not chronological, nor does it tell one story from her life. Rather it’s like spending some time with her, quietly listening as she talks about the memories brought back by her activities and interactions, the television shows she’s watching, the books she’s reading, and the things she loves in her daily routine.
This style of memoir won’t appeal to everyone. If you’re looking for celebrity behind-the-scenes, you won’t find that here. Nor will you find much about the New York she so beautifully evoked in Just Kids. It’s a quiet memoir, more about the introspection of someone who has built a life doing the things she loves, who has lost her love but still finds ways to think of him in her day-to-day life, and who has found quiet joy in simple things like a cup of fresh coffee served with bread and olive oil at her favourite cafe.
I loved spending a few days with Patti. I hadn’t been feeling well, and her quiet introspection and the parts of her life she shared felt familiar and comforting to me. I felt I had found a friend – I even discovered some new favourite TV shows and books from her recommendations.
If you’re looking for a book that rings with a love of the written word and is full of calm acceptance of both the losses and gifts each day brings, this is a book you will read, re-read and treasure for many years to come.
From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids: an unforgettable odyssey into the mind of this legendary artist, told through the prism of cafés and haunts she has visited and worked in around the world.
M Train is a journey through eighteen “stations.” It begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. We then travel, through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations: from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; from the ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith buys just before Hurricane Sandy hits, to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation, alongside signature memories including her life in Michigan with her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, whose untimely death was an irremediable loss. For it is loss, as well as the consolation we might salvage from it, that lies at the heart of this exquisitely told memoir, one augmented by stunning black-and-white Polaroids taken by Smith herself. M Train is a meditation on endings and on beginnings: a poetic tour de force by one of the most brilliant multiplatform artists at work today. – Goodreads
**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**
Book Title: M Train
Author: Patti Smith
Published By: Knopf
Released: October 6, 2015
Genre: Memoir, Autobiography, Nostalgia
Date Read: October 13-15, 2015