GOOD ON HER for winning the National Book Award, certainly, and she is plainly still a force to be reckoned with--I love Banga--but I got this when it came out (late 2010?), started it almost immediately, yet finished it only this week. In other words--not that compelling, is my own private assessment.
Just Kids is like the first half of Mulholland Drive without the darker second half, where we get the underside of the story of a wide-eyed kid with a crazy dream coming to the cultural capital. In Just Kids, one has the feeling, we are only getting the parts of the story that Smith would tell her grandkids. While Mulholland Drive went on to pull the myth inside out, Just Kids never does.
Smith and Mapplethorpe certainly qualify as crazy kids with dream, though, dropping themselves into Manhattan without any connections, credentials, or accomplishments. All they had, really, was the conviction that they were Artists. They did not even know, when they arrived, what they were good at--Mapplethorpe had not yet done any photography, Smith had not yet fronted a band. Yet they both become legendary, thanks to persistence, chutzpah, and willingness to attempt more than they had good reason to believe they could pull off. They Leaned In.
(Something that can only occur in what Rancière calls the aesthetic regime of art, I would say, this having the conviction that one is an artist even before one has discovered in oneself any unusual talent for any art.)
It's a great story, so I wish Smith had had the nerve to really tell it. This story of a south Jersey Lucien de Rubempré needs a Balzac. But where will we find one these days?