Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: "Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Wow. What a fantastically written and compelling book.

True confession time: I honestly didn't know much about Patti Smith, save her song "Because the Night," and I didn't know much about the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, except for the controversy much of his work generated. I also had no idea that Smith and Mapplethorpe had a more than 20-year friendship that inspired both of their artistic careers to flourish. But I had heard wonderful things about Smith's memoir, Just Kids (it recently won the National Book Award), so I thought I'd give the book a shot and perhaps learn something new as well.

Smith is a tremendously gifted writer. As she unfolds the story of her friendship with Mapplethorpe and her struggle to find herself and realize her place in the artistic community, her narrative has an almost poetic quality. This was a relationship that flourished in the early 1970s, a very creative, wild time, and Smith truly evoked imagery of that era, empathy as both she and Mapplethorpe struggled to find their artistic footing (while finding the money to survive), and both beauty and anguish in her description of their relationship. This is an inspirational and heartbreaking story about a way of life that really no longer exists, and the story provides insight into two true icons. Don't be put off if you don't know much about either Smith or Mapplethorpe—you'll find yourself drawn to the narrative that Smith has woven.

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