Patti Smith’s 2010 memoir Just Kids was about beginnings, her early years in New York when she and her artistic coconspirator Robert Mapplethorpe made art and explored the world and rose from poverty to rock stardom. In her newest, M Train, she’s still working and making art and exploring, but now she’s alone and grieving for the many things she’s lost: photographs, a favorite camera, a perfect black coat, a neighborhood, a coffee shop, her brother, Todd, and most of all, her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Fred is the guiding spirit of M Train. His loss permeates the book, which ostensibly is a series of essays about Smith’s wanderings and obsessions in 2012 and 2013. She reads. She writes. She travels. She tends to the graves of her literary idols. She looks for messages in her dreams. She corresponds with her fellow members of the Continental Drift Club. She buys a house in Rockaway Beach just a few months before the neighborhood is destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. (The house, though badly damaged, survives.) She drinks buckets of coffee at her favorite cafe and imagines herself a lone detective, like the heroes and heroines of her favorite TV shows. Fred was her partner; now he is gone. “Just come back,” she tells him. “You’ve been gone long enough. Just come back. I will stop traveling; I will wash your clothes.”
M Train is a melancholy book, but not a depressing one. Though Smith writes that when Fred died “the world was drained of wonder,” it seems she’s managed to recover some of it on her own. As in Just Kids, she forges connections between words and dreams and people through her intelligence and, yes, kindness. “May she live to be one hundred,” she toasts a Japanese actress, “faithful to herself.”