M Train by Patti SmithFrom 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 Kahlos Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorers society in Berlin; from the ramshackle seaside bungalow in New Yorks 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 writers 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.
Legendary Patti Smith on Her New Memoir "M Train" & National Book Award Winner "Just Kids"
Book review: ‘M Train’ by Patti Smith
I occasionally wondered what had happened to that all-powerful rock goddess as I meandered through her memoir. As it turns out, Smith really is the kind of woman who talks to her cats. Everywhere she goes she is pursued by melancholia, a sense that the best days of her life are behind her. The book had certain key selling points: a gritty New York setting, a tale of hungry young artists before they became household names. M Train is a rather trickier proposition. Wherever she goes she is haunted by memories of Fred.
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There, I said it. M Train casts the kind of spell that one must return to over and over again. Indeed, the surface of this book purports to be a meandering and even random collection of journal jottings that may have a few common threads but really no ultimate focal point or theme. In fact, each chapter treats an important loss in her life, from such heartbreaking historical moments as the death of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, to such private griefs like the sudden misplacement of her favorite coat. Every chapter digs a fresh grave in the chambers of her memory. She moves between these reflections on actual events through the use of dreamscapes.
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M Train is a strange, astonishingly entertaining book: a mixture of travelogue, memoir, dream sequences, musings on art and detective shows, photographic pilgrimages, and visits to coffee shops. Her plan seems to have been to write a book without knowing what it was going to be about. If that's the case, perhaps more people should write books in this way. About a quarter of the way into M Train , I suddenly realised what it reminded me of: the writings of W. Sebald, of whom I'm a huge fan.