I received this book free from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.M Train on October 6th 2015
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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.
‘I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.’
Patti Smith carries us through her esoteric stories of the past and present in this short story/essay collection. M Train reads like an internal journey, a solo exploration. She recalls cafes visited all around the world, writing or simply sitting and reminiscing while drinking an insane amount of coffee that makes my own addiction to caffeine seem laughable. While Smith seems completely content with her own company and the adventures she undertakes alone, there’s still an underlying sadness when recollecting the loved ones she’s lost and the memories that still haunt her.
-What are you writing?
I looked up at her, somewhat surprised. I had absolutely no idea.
Ultimately, this accurately sums up this non-linear story collection. Random, non-cohesive thoughts that bounce around her lifetime from past to present with no indication of time. It is possible for randomness to possess interest and there is no doubt that Patti Smith has led a most interesting life, such as the descriptions of her trip to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni in northwest French Guiana to visit the remains of a French penal colony where criminals were kept. Of all the places in the world to visit though, only Patti Smith would decide to visit an old abandoned prison at the end of the world. Nevertheless, it was interesting, but while it was all very informative and her writing is forever fluid, none of it ever felt as if it had much substance. Her descriptions of her trip to Germany to attend a conference with the Continental Drift Club, of which she is a member strangely enough, were fascinating but then she goes on to describe how on her return trip home she decided to stay in London to binge-watch some crime shows on the BBC. Fascinating and then… not.
Just Kids was stunning and poignant and her writing transported the reader back to a long past period of time. While her writing is still top-notch and her talent is undeniable, M Train was simply too meandering and tangential for my liking. The triviality of these stories are clearly meaningful to her since our experiences in life are what make us who we are today, but the importance is easily lost when not experienced firsthand but only recapped from memory.
‘I believe in life, which one day each of us shall lose. When we are young we think we won’t, that we are different. As a child I thought I would never grow up, that I could will it so. And then I realize, quite recently, that I had crossed some line, unconsciously cloaked in the truth of my chronology.’