“It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” The central mantra of Patti Smith’s M Train is emblematic of the epigrammatic style that runs through her follow-up to 2010’s Just Kids. But while that earlier autobiographical text still had the thrust of narrative, centering as it did on Smith’s friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, M Train is more content to offer up Smith’s “world on a platter filled with allusions.”
And they’re allusions that know no generic bounds, as Smith’s prose moves seamlessly from the literary (Bowles, Wordsworth, Lolita) to the cinematic (Pasolini, Ran, Kate Hepburn), from the musical (Mendehlson, Puccini) to, perhaps most surprisingly, the televisual. Because one of the many joys of reading M Train is learning about Smith’s obsession with detective serials: She waxes here on the joys of The Killing (she had a cameo as a doctor on the U.S. incarnation), Luther, Law & Order, Detective Frost, Whitechapel, and others. That fascination ripples through M Train, whose inclusion of Polaroids of everyday objects at times feels like a series of endless clues that would no doubt help us unlock Smith’s own train of thought were it not so much more entertaining following it aimlessly instead.