Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Douglas Forsythe, Poet, Columnist

I have to admit, I had never dived too deeply into Patti Smith’s discography before starting her 2019 novel Year of the Monkey. Providing a surreal take on a year that would even confuse the likes of Breton and Magritte, the patron saint of Punk Rock combines the stresses of her friend’s health struggles after a show in San Francisco with fantasies of seafood shacks and candy wrappers. 

Focusing primarily on Smith’s experiences coping with the hospitalization of friend and mentor Sandy Pearlman (who initially convinced Smith to enter the foray of the 1970s punk scene) the novel shifts between dreams and realities from there on out. It is never quite clear what is real and what isn’t, as the wonderful prose easily skews the reader’s ability to discern the two, allowing for a story part memoir, part dream journal. 

Like I said earlier, this is my first major dive into Patti Smith’s work aside from her 1976 album “Radio Ethiopia.” Why I hadn’t done so earlier confounds me, but I don’t mind having waited. Smith is definitely one of the foremost creative minds of our time, and her work has shown this. I highly recommend this trip of a novel to anyone interested, even if they have no connection to the author or her prior works.