cover image Devotion


Patti Smith. Yale Univ., $18 (112p) ISBN 978-0-300-21862-6

Musician and author Smith (M Train) tries her hand at that most meta of projects: writing a book about writing. This is no craft manual, however; instead, her slim volume contains a single novella bookended by a pair of personal reflections on the tale’s genesis (she’s inspired to write about a discourse between “a sophisticated, rational man and a precocious, intuitive girl”): among the reflections are her descriptions of a trip to Paris while obsessing over Simone Weil and Soviet deportations; a remembered photograph taken decades before; and wood carvings, seen on a visit to the home Albert Camus, that Camus bought with his Nobel Prize money. The lesson is obvious: that a writer draws on every detail of his or her life for the alchemical, often unconscious process of creation. But seeing the process in action is a profound experience. Smith’s writing in the essays is as beautifully structured as her poetry, so the novella’s mundanity comes as something of a shock: an orphaned young girl with an obsession for ice skating is stalked, groomed, and abused by an older man, and both meet tragic ends. Smith’s writing about her novella is much more thoughtful and captivating than the novella itself. [em](Sept.) [/em]