my night with The Soloist


I read the 2nd half of The Soloist straight through the night before last - for the story, for the prose, and for the sense of walking with a kindred spirit.

The author, Steve Lopez, is an LA Times columnist who befriended a homeless, mentally ill former Julliard student. It began as a column and ended as a life-changing friendship--life-changing in both directions. The homeless man, Nathanial Ayers, got a place to live, new instruments, and a healing reconnection with a community of musicians. (You can't say he got his music back because he'd never lost it.) The columnist got a passion for classical music, a recommitment to journalism, a newly-opened heart, and a movie deal.

I'm glad he got a movie deal. I've been following Lopez since his Philadelphia Inquirer days, when he wrote a novel about the North Philly drug trade Third and Indiana. Often, passing through that badlands intersection, I thought of the book and regretted that it had gone out of print. But it's back in, and I'm glad.

Both books do things I tried to do. They describe people society has turned its back on in such a way as to make society (me and you) take a second look. To put it in Quaker terms, Lopez sees the Light in each person; and he seeks out people in whom the Light may not be all that easy to see, but he sees it, keeps trying to see it.

In short, he's faithful (a word he probably wouldn't use). Yet he's honest about wanting to run away from the suffering, and usefuly self-reflective about why he wants to run away.

In the end he's much more self-accepting than I was, more at peace. But then he didn't live with Mr. Ayers, as I did with Tahija and Lamarr; didn't bond with three beautiful baby boys.

But he crossed a chasm of difference and described both sides, in a way that helps close it. Here's one example of the spare, forceful prose, from near the end of the book. He has helped reunite Mr. Ayers with the sister he hasn't seen in years.

"Jennifer is with her big brother at long last in this crazy city their father moved to, breaking their young hearts. Strange, the way it has all worked out, with Jennifer taking over the financial responsibilities of a big brother who was always so wise and able. He plays now against a backdrop of sea and sky, a symphony under trees, right here where impossible wealth meets hopeless suffering. Botoxed weight-watchers in designer sweats come jogging past drunken vets passed out on fields of green. Down the hill and across the cinnamon sands, the tide is up and the waves keep coming, a thunderous ancient rhythm."

Makes you want to read his (three) novels, right? But read The Soloist first. If you liked Walk with Us you'll like it. And if you haven't read Walk with Us yet, what's up with that?! Waiting for the movie?