By Seija Rankin
July 09, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith
Credit: Cover image: Linda Bianucci

Patti Smith's poetic novel, The Year of the Monkey, transported readers from the shores of central California, across the desert landscapes and even to a Kentucky farm — and now it's coming to paperback. EW is exclusively revealing the brand new cover, which features a photograph of the writer and musician, as well as an excerpt from the paperback edition's brand new material.

Below, read the beginnings of The Year of the Monkey's new epilogue, which ruminates on the changes in the world since the book's original publishing and features never-before-seen photos from Smith's own collection.


The Year of the Monkey has long past, and we have entered a new decade, one that has so far played out with mounting challenges and a systemic nausea, though not necessarily induced by illness or motion. More of a psychic nausea that we are obliged to work off in every way available. Though harboring hopeful dispatches, the new year has unfolded with our personal and global concerns eclipsed by a profound lack of judgment.

We greet 2020 as our constitutional moral center is being redesigned in an increasingly immoral way, governed by those professing to have a hold on Christian values yet sidestepping the core of Christianity — to love one another. Their necks turn from the suffering as they willingly follow one lacking an authentic responsiveness to a waning human condition. I had hoped for a more enlightened scenario for our new decade, imagining ceremonial panels opening, as the wings of great altarpieces on feast days, revealing 2020 as the year of perfect vision. Perhaps these expectations were naïve and yet were truly felt, just as the anguish of inequity is felt, a dark blot that will not go away.

Where is brightness? Where is prudent justice? we ask, standing our ground with mental plow, burdened with the task to stay balanced in these unbalanced times.


There is a saying in the canons of lunar astrology that the Monkey needs the Rat. I’m not sure in what capacity, though some say that Rats are able to cheer Monkeys up when they’re feeling down, for when together the air is filled with laughter. Of course, we are speaking not only of the species themselves but also of certain inherent qualities of those born in the year of either augury. In any event, we are, at this very moment, entering the lunar Year of the Metal Rat, to be vastly celebrated in our great cities, especially those containing magnificent Chinatowns, with massive displays of fireworks, sacred lion dances, and confetti and multicolored tinsel floating from the sky. Festivities to be capped with a parade on February 10, as the full snow moon rises, with floats and dragons and effigies of the year’s namesake. In an abstract gesture of solidarity, I dig into a box of old records and unearth Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats. The girl on the cover, rising from a deserted swimming pool, is Miss Christine, the fragile Victorian beauty of Girls Together Outrageously, known as the GTOs.

Hot Rats came out at the end of 1969. At the time, I was living with Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel, and we often talked with her in the lobby. She was an ethereal being, with a mane even wilder than mine and skin like peach fuzz. Somewhere in early 1970, Miss Christine petitioned me to join her revolutionary band, and though it wasn’t the right vocation for me, I was flattered. Shaking her slender hand, I had the impression I was facing a delicate bird of prey. That was over half a century ago, which is hard to fathom, for I can still picture her wide-eyed and soft-spoken, head cocked, a pirate’s fair daughter who never saw twenty-three. With a nod to Zappa’s young protégée, I slip the record from the sleeve and examine it carefully, discovering it covered with tiny scratches, like the claw prints of a circling band of rats.

A turntable spins straight back through time. I place the album jacket on my desk, temporarily obscuring a small Tenniel print of Alice conversing with the Dodo. Propped next to that is a birthday gift from a dear friend, an upright crystal rat washed in gold that I have christened Ratty. He will preside over my room as my lunar talisman. For that’s how it works; we look to the rising Metal Rat with unguarded optimism, for each new year begins with its designated lunar creature, with its particular armor and distinctive personality, and the integral belief that things will soon be better.


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