‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith is a difficult book to describe or characterise. It is an autobiography through the lens of a sometimes brilliant and sometimes hurtful relationship.
I could start by describing it as raw since the tale it tells is certainly a raw one. I could call it unadorned since the language is simple and unadorned. At the same time it is romantic since it is above all dedicated to Smith’s love for Robert Mapplethorpe. We could also add honest since Smith does not gild the lily and honestly tells of stealing and cheating.
Smith quickly moves through her childhood and only really gets into detail when she tells of falling pregnant, being dismissed from teacher’s college and giving up the child for adoption at the age of nineteen. Soon after she leaves New Jersey for New York, already seeking the life of an artist and immediately runs into Mapplethorpe who shows her a place to sleep and then disappears before resurfacing when they meet for the second time at the bookshop Brentano’s.
What follows is a love story, a love of the artistic life, of New York, of the times and the artists that inhabited it but most of all a love of Mapplethorpe that changed but did not decrease when they stopped as lovers and he realised his homosexuality. Nor did it seem to change as both climbed the ladder of fame and success.