As others have noted, these are two very different books.
Certainly Patti Smith completists will enjoy hanging out with her as she travels, as she kills time in hotel rooms watching detective shows, as she follows her whims, and as she searches for coffee. And drinks coffee. And drinks coffee. And drinks…more coffee.
I love the fact that Patti Smith likes detective shows on television—she’s certainly as grounded here as she was in Just Kids.
But M Train is inward, repetitive (coffee, globe-trotting, reflecting, leaving books and coats behind) and never digs deep. What did she get out of Roberto Bolaño? What did she get out Haruki Murakami and The Wind-Up Bird?
She makes it clear she adores their writing, but why? What? A glimpse here, a glimpse there—and back to the coffee.
Other than making a concerted effort to visit Frida Kahlo’s “Blue House” in Mexico City, what did she see in her kindred spirit? I think she let herself off easy. I think the editors let her off easy. If this was written by some ordinary Joe or Josephine, and not Patti Smith, it would never have made it out of the slush pile. The appeal here is the name and all that history, Fred Smith and so much more. We’re so supposed to fall into some sort of hypnotic trance? It did not work on me.
M Train stayed on the surface, clickety-clack. I listened on audio, by the way, and found Patti’s narration flat. I mean, here’s a woman who understands the power of the spoken word (and dynamics) and this is one long, solemn reading of her own words. If she wants to get others excited to read Paul Bowles (great to think of Bowles and Smith chatting), her achingly straightforward delivery was no way to spark interest.
The New York Times raved about M Train. So did the Washington Post. I’m missing the boat. There are others who praised the ‘elegiac’ nature of this work; okay. To me, this came across as weary and worn. Patti Smith sounded tired. I felt tired.
I know Patti is a brilliant artist. I encourage others to read Just Kids, and dig “Banga” and “Twelve” and “Wave” and “Easter” and “Horses.” Take M Train for a ride if you don’t mind a coffee-fueled engine and a looping, meandering ride to … somewhere. I wanted to step off this ride.
My review of Just Kids.