Just Kids is Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1960s and 70s, before they got famous. Smith, a poet and musician, has an old-fashioned, over-earnest writing style -- one might even call it clunky. Her habit of using "for" when normal people would use "because" drove me crazy at first, but the book won a National Book Award, so I somehow managed to overlook this and other oddities.
The book gets rolling around page 35, when Smith meets Mapplethorpe. Up until then I was on the fence about whether or not to keep reading. After page 35 I was riveted. The story of the always-on friendship and on-and-off love affair between Smith and Mapplethorp is compelling in and of itself; their later fame makes the tale extra yummy. We find out what they went through -- and went without -- in order to become full-fledged artists (Mapplethorp in photography, Smith in poetry and music). When they share a tiny room at the legendary Chelsea Hotel, they often survive on a single meal per day from the Automat; later, when they rent loft space nearby, they have no running water and have to walk three blocks to use a toilet -- not a pleasant prospect in the middle of the night, Smith confesses, and mentions her "piss cups" in passing.
I loved some of the little discoveries in the book -- such as Smith's attitude (or lack of attitude) about her own and Mapplethorpe's androgyny. At one point, Allen Ginsberg hits on Smith; when she realizes he thinks she's a boy, she extricates herself from the predicament rather elegantly. And Smith's naivete about sex and drugs is rather charming placed alongside perceptions about her. Her drug of choice, for years, was coffee!
At the end of the book I still have questions about Smith and Mapplethorp, but I got what one hopes to get out of a memoir: a sense (perhaps false, but then, when isn't it) of really knowing a person.
Tiger link: ML420.S672 S65 2010