I loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids, but I loved M Train even more. She is such a wonderful writer. She takes us places, many times to Greenwich Village, for many cups of coffee at Café ‘Ino, but also to Berlin, Reykjavík, Tangier, Mexico City or Tokyo (the leitmotif of the café recurring everywhere). She talks about a favourite book (like Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), and then another (like Peter Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky), and another, and another, and about writers and artists, so we are treated to a beautiful literary incursion. We even discover how she met Katharine Hepburn when working as a clerk at Scribner’s Bookstore, where she used to gather books for Katharine. “She wore the late Spencer Tracy’s leather cap, held in place by a green silk headscarf. I stood back and watched as she turned the pages, pondering aloud whether Spencer would have liked it.” We watch one too many detective series. She praises Akira Kurosawa and about Ran (his adaptation after King Lear) she says that it is an epic that might have caused Shakespeare to shudder (I agree). And we feel her grief, still, so many years (twenty) after losing her husband. She’s nostalgic, but has a “natural optimism” in her as well, as she herself writes.
She somehow reminds me of the characters in Yasujirō Ozu’s films. There is something so nobly quiet about her. It seems that hardly anything is allowed to interfere with her interior life and art … and coffee, and this lack of artifice, her pared-down way of being is what draws you into her story, into understanding the soothing nature of life, despite whatever may come its way.
I usually keep a notebook and pen within arm’s reach when I read a book so that I can write down quotes and different references and I did just that with M Train for a few chapters, then decided to read it uninterrupted. I didn’t want to interrupt that beautiful, natural flow of the narration, floating between present and past. I came back after I finished it to take notes. This book has simply become one of my current favourites.
“I believe in movement. I believe in that lighthearted balloon, the world. I believe in midnight and the hour of noon. But what else do I believe in? Sometimes everything. Sometimes nothing. It fluctuates like light flitting over a pond. 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.”