M Train

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A dreamy work from Patti Smith, more enjoyable than Just Kids which garnered her the National Book Award. In M Train, she fully unleashes her poetic prose, willing a book to flow from her fingers by sheer habit of going to the same Village cafe to write every morning (which eventually closes, much to her dismay), flustered if anyone sits in “her” spot, a chair at a table somewhat hidden away from the rest of the cafe.

Once again she taps her past for stories, but these weren’t centered around Mapplethorpe, thank god. She tells of traveling with husband Fred to French Guiana to retrieve stones from the jail to be placed with Genet (who served time there and documented it in The Thief’s Journal, queued up for me because I’m also reading Papillon and wondering if any bits are ripped off from Genet) in France, enlisting the help of William Burroughs whom Patti knew since her early 20s.

Throughout the book she peppers photographs of objects of interest: Roberto Bolaño’s writing chair, Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Sylvia Plath’s headstone in winter, Tolstoy’s bear for calling cards, Frida Kahlo’s bed. Fred’s early death is also a constant ghost in this story, popping up to remind her as she ages, turns sixty-six.

Other tales range from giving a talk as the newest (and last, 23rd) member of the Continental Drift Club (CDC) in Berlin, plus the time she sang songs with Bobby Fischer, chess legend, all night in Reykjavik, Iceland. When a flight delay in London depresses her, she decides to stay on in the country for a few weeks, holed up in her hotel watching detective shows. Coffee drinking and the pursuit thereof is a favorite theme. She purchases a dilapidated house on Rockaway Beach a few months before Hurricane Sandy devastates the area (but leaves her house standing, just with tons of mold and rot). She gets transported by The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and makes her way to Japan to pay homage to some of the dead authors, see the post-earthquake reconstruction, and meet with her Japanese publisher.