In her third memoir, National Book Award winner Smith writes with fresh lucidity, arch wit, bittersweet wonder, and stoic sorrow, shifting in tone from lyrical to hallucinatory to hard-boiled as she describes her meditative and investigative meanderings along the Pacific coast and in the desert ... Smith also chronicles with exquisite poignancy her last visits with her soul mate Sam Shepherd as she helps him complete his last book. Smith’s reflections on a wrenching yet grace-filled year as 'the world in its dependable folly kept spinning' is elegiac, vital, and magical.
Smith’s gift for memoir, a natural extension of her work as a lyricist and poet, is once again apparent. Whether describing great works of art or her breakfast, Smith’s straightforward use of language to evoke a mood or place make her flights in and out of dream states seamless. There is nothing pretentious or condescending about her writing, despite the literary and artistic allusions. Her words are for anyone ... Fans of Smith’s extensive body of work and those who enjoy well-crafted personal narratives will find much to love in this brief and vibrant book.
... a beautiful, elegant, and poetic memoir that takes a single year in the artist's life, 2016, and delves deep into the events that shaped it — and the feelings and memories they produced ... Effortlessly weaving together fiction and nonfiction, Smith takes readers on two unique journeys: one that can be traced on a map and one, infinitely richer and more complex, that takes place inside her head and heart. The result is a hybrid narrative that's part travel journal, part reflexive essay on our times, and part meditation on existence at the edge of a new decade of life ... walks a fine line between fiction and nonfiction. [Smith] is aware of the difference between what happens outside her head and what only goes on inside it, but she happily walks that fine line and allows her writing to obliterate the dividing line ... While The Year of the Monkey is wildly entertaining and, at times, touching, the beauty of it comes from Smith's writing. Her musical career sometimes threatens to overshadow her accomplishments in other creative fields, but every page in this book is packed with enough outstanding prose to constantly remind readers that Smith is an accomplished novelist, essayist, and poet who won the National Book Award in 2010 ... a beautifully realized and unique memoir that chronicles a transformative year in the life of one of our most multi-talented creative voices. Smith's approach to nonfiction is unique and brave: It counts as true if it happened, if she imagined it, and if she felt it. This is a book about Smith and the world all around — and that world includes all of us. And that is just one more reason why everyone should read it.
... a moving account of the emotional stumbles, physical and intellectual wanderings and deep losses Smith experienced in her 70th year ... Smith finds art everywhere, and each of her books offers a welcome look at what has captured her attention.
Smith zigzags around the country — from Manhattan to San Francisco, from Venice Beach to Tucson — snapping photos that head up each chapter here. But nearly every time her travelogue gets up a head of steam, the narrative momentum is halted for Smith to describe another one of her damn dreams ... After Just Kids, Smith stopped using quotation marks in her memoirs — everyone is paraphrased, and in Year of the Monkey, almost everyone sounds like Patti Smith. At her best, her prose reads like Smith verbally riffing between songs onstage with her guitarist pal Lenny Kaye, burning up nights with rock poetry. But too often, her memory is now clouded by the wisps of dreams she values too much.
... will feel painfully familiar to those who can recall the anxiety that people across America felt in that year and those that have followed it. The many that revere Smith will take a thrill in her vivid recollections of long ago days on the stage and the streets of Greenwich Village, while anyone consumed by the fears of today will find them expressed vividly by a beautiful voice.
... often maudlin, a reflection both on mortality and of the times in which Smith finds herself, but rich in detail ... the narrative moves constantly between reverie and memory; it’s invariably left up to us to work out which is which ... Both mundane and magical, this book is a world away from Just Kids...though the unique artistry of her prose remains ... Smith lives much of her life in the past but her account of her wanderings shows us who she is now, and the stories and dreams that occupy her.
It was disappointing how frequently Year of the Monkey, a memoir/travelogue of Smith’s 69th year, was in its opening chapters bewildering, floaty and disjointed. Had the punk downtown poet become Carlos Castaneda? ... gathers strength and momentum as it goes ... There are achingly sweet recollections of travels with a poet named Ray ... The book has precious little about music. What’s there is priceless. Smith’s brief description of a tribute concert she gave two days after Pearlman’s memorial makes one ache to have been present ... mith mixes hope and despair, elegy and art, dream and reality. In the end, her enigmatic journey has become a fascinating one.
We follow her, as we always do, on a series of misadventures that she retells with enviable calm. She hitchhikes through the desert and gets left for dead ... Smith’s decades-long friendship with Shepard...is a part of her mythology, one of the many connections she’s made by chance in some bar in Chelsea and that came to define the trajectory of her career. But it’s not often that she’s spoken of it in such personal and frank terms as she does in this book, setting down an image of one of the country’s greatest playwrights while he struggles to use his hands. She makes no effort to play up or explain her devastation, which is obvious ... this is Smith’s modus operandi. She unfurls a long dreamscape of a scene: the blue light of a country house at night, the horses, the rocking chairs. Then she punches you in the gut with the emotional point — even the people you can’t live without are, in fact, people you might outlive — and pulls you into another dream ... Patti Smith is not a nostalgic narrator in the way we typically use the word; she’s much too smart to wish for the literal past. She comes off more like an artist whose life’s work was dreaming of a bolder and more interesting world, confronted now with the reality that many of the people around her did not want that world, and that they seem to have won out. To her credit, she doesn’t try to untangle why ... The Year of the Monkey, while full of riddles and fantasies and characters who appear once and never again, or twice in a way that seems impossible, makes some strange sense by the time it’s done.
... a personal journey rife with longing, grief and cautious hope ... Smith has been heralded as the punk rock laureate who first rose to fame in the 1970s, and she brings that poetic elegance to her literary work. She is a true artist who carries herself with modesty and humility, which seems an anathema in this age of narcissistic, prefab pop stars ... Even if one does not have a deep working knowledge of certain artistic or religious references [Smith] makes (it does help), the way in which she expresses herself allows one to understand how she feels and appreciate her perspective. She is equally a participant and observer of life, and as much as art provides sustenance and solace for her in troubled times, by the end she is invoking a greater call to action ... If there is anyone capable of living in the past, present and future simultaneously, and occupying that space between reality and dreams, it is Smith. Her life seems to be filled with an aura of magical realism as art provides a gateway to a higher consciousness. It may not be easy to conveniently explain Smith's style or approach, but that is not the point. You simply need to surrender to it to be inspired by it.
As she wanders between waking and dreaming in a year filled with the death of a close friend and the political turmoil of the 2016 election, musician and National Book Award–winner Smith...contemplates dreams and reality in this luminous collection of anecdotes and photos. In light of her 70th birthday, Smith writes lyrically on various subjects ... Smith discovers that her most meaningful insights come from her vivid dreams, and she feels a palpable melancholia over having to wake up from them. Smith casts a mesmerizing spell with exquisite prose
On the one hand, it would be easy to judge that this book strongly resembles everything else she's written ... Like the majority of Smith's best writing, Year of the Monkey is most at ease when it is close to death ... shouldn't we ask in what ways, if any, Smith is evolving as a writer? The consistency of her work is by and large commendable. Nobody thinks she's phoning it in. Year of the Monkey is as genuine a collection of Smith's life force as each of her preceding books. It is satisfying to catchup with her each time, seeing what new things she's thinking about in her same beautiful way ... Smith's awareness of herself as a character in her books is quite remarkable and she negotiates her own image with a lot of skill. Yet as I was reading, a feeling began to creep up on me that provoked me to a thought experiment. I tried reading the book as if it were written by someone else -- anyone else. In a vacuum, absent a reader's prior knowledge of the author, what kind of book is Year of the Monkey? ... It's a good book. One that I'd recommend on the strength of all its predictable stylistic attributes and the incredible chance to look in on Sam Shepard at death's door ... a stunning, soothing work from the author you know so well.
Year of the Monkey may come billed as a memoir, but really it is less in the vein of Smith’s National Book Award-winning Just Kids than of her poetry, or impressionistic works such as M Train and Woolgathering. ... Smith is showing us her inner life, the interplay she shares with that silk of souls. It is as if everything she has heard or read, everything she has been, continues to co-exist inside her. We recognize this to be accurate because something similar is true of us ... The real reckoning Year of the Monkey makes, however, is with mortality — or, perhaps more accurately, with time. Taking as its frame the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the book begins in January 2016 and ends after the inauguration of Donald Trump. That’s a different sort of reckoning, and it has its place here, although Smith is careful not to let it overwhelm. Or maybe it’s just that she sees it as one more reason to hold onto what matters, for as long, and as fully, as she can.
... combines Carrollian topsy-turvy with the kind of hard-edged mystic surrealism that Smith is so famous for ... Smith is such a time traveler. She seems to live in myriad epochs simultaneously, a spiritual ubiquity directly reflected, in Year of the Monkey, through her surroundings ... The prose becomes increasingly visionary, even biblical, with Smith’s incantatory prowess, her charging-horse delivery, at its most propulsive and insistent, advancing through repetition, invoking through breathless passages of prophecy too lengthy to quote and too powerful to take out of context, terrible visions of shunned migrancy and regenerative imagination ... a kind of Patti in the Valley of the Shadow of Death or Patti in the Sadlands. This isn’t to say the book is regretful or self-pitying. Far from it. Rather, it’s a moving, witty, at times almost trance-like work traversing age, aging, sickness, and death, as well as joy, gratitude, and wonder. No longer the kid of her National Book Award-winning Just Kids, Smith (now 70) may be older, wiser and frailer, but she’s no less curious and curiouser.
... essentially a structured, whimsical, somewhat gloomy journal entry covering late 2015 to early 2017 ... Listen, Patti Smith is a legend, her album Horses rules, and the writing here is good and full of a genuine curiosity about the world. But the book elicited two major responses from me: the occasional sagacious nod, and eye rolls that hit with concussive force ... Like William Blake, Allen Ginsberg, or Simone Weil, Smith is a visionary. She imagines waking dreams that allow her to see into the future and to uncover from the past hidden clues about life's great mysteries. But a visionary is only as good as the quality of her visions, and the visions in this book are, um, pretty idiosyncratic. Or else clichéd word-streams punctuated by coyotes ... The tension —charged with the grab-bag spirituality that characterizes so much boomer bullshit—is this: Will Smith find some sense of personal narrative closure in her life or will she eventually die feeling uncomfortable with the unknown? ... While that's a perfectly valid metaphysical concern, one that holds for everyone, Smith's conversations with the Dream Inn sign don't reveal much about what's beyond the veil.
Smith is unarguably a talented writer with a great command of rhythm and rhyme, of imagery and simile and all things lyrical. She has an immense gift for rendering beautiful places and moments one suspects are only special in the way she saw them, and because of the way she wrote them ... The risk with a writer like Smith—who can write the hell out of a dream, a moment, a candy wrapper—is that once invested with the weight of her talent for stringing words together, any digression seems more important than it might be to a reader trying (struggling) to find and follow the story. If, however, this is just fine with you and you don’t mind diversion in exchange for loveliness that doesn’t feel the need to get anywhere in a hurry, then, by all means, this is your book. Sit back, read it, enjoy the detour.
This chronicle of a chaotic year filled with deep losses and rich epiphanies finds the writer and performer covering a whole lot of ground ... A captivating, redemptive chronicle of a year in which Smith looked intently into the abyss.
[Smith's] latest book, Year of the Monkey, is sister to M Train...and shares in the same quiet, melancholic mood. The young woman who enthusiastically poked at the status quo with her insurgent music in a bid to shape the future...finds herself in her 70s as an explorer on the outer rim, the future she challenged bearing down on her life in its ultimate guise — human mortality ... Nothing much happens in Year of the Monkey. ... Time moves and Ms. Smith observes its passage ... We could be in a Raymond Chandler novel or one of Jean Cocteau’s movies. Year of the Monkey is both and neither. There is a pervasive fog-bound atmosphere underscored by whispers of dread in these pages that Philip Marlowe would swaddle himself in.
There’s a dreamy weirdness to the interactions and conversations recorded here that seem to push into the territory of auto-fiction rather than straight memoir ... What is happening here?
... presents more like a work of poetry or a novella than a conventional first-person narrative ... The other goings-on, however, are both elliptical and not a little confounding ... Everything is unprecedented in Year of the Monkey, Smith seems to be saying. Time concertinas, reality is unmoored. But you get the feeling that Smith might exist in a permanent Stendhal syndrome swoon, as Flemish altarpieces, Dragon Ball anime and Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit all swirl around in her mind ... The book is a highly individual stocktaking of a most unusual 70th year of a great woman of letters. But what happens next?