Book Review – The Soloist by Steve Lopez

Now a major motion picture, The Soloist is a story about a very unique interaction between two men living in Los Angeles, California.  Nathaniel Ayers is a man who attended Julliard as a young person, but never completed his education.  He was overcome by the pressure and competition at Julliard and started receiving bad grades.  While he was failing school, everyone still recognized that he had world-class talent, but he just could not focus and find order in his life. 

Eventually, Nathaniel was forced to drop out of school by his own lack of mental stability, and ended up living on the street.  He found his way to Los Angeles and settled there due to the fact that a statue of Beethoven was created in one of the city’s parks.  Nathaniel made his way around the city and often played his dilapidated violin in a nearby tunnel which provided him with adequate acoustics. 

One day, Steve Lopez crossed paths with Nathaniel Ayers.  Lopez was intrigued by Nathaniel, and as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, saw Nathaniel as his next column.  He began asking Nathaniel questions and interviewing him, and building a bond. Lopez learned about Nathaniel’s past and how he actually did attend Julliard as a world-class musician.  The story kept getting better, and Lopez published a series of articles to curious readers about the life of Ayers. 

Lopez never expected the reaction that came from publishing his articles.  People replied with the need for more information on Nathaniel’s life, and even started sending in musical instruments for him to play.  Nathaniel had been playing an awful two-string violin since he did not have the money to buy a new instrument or even strings.  He received new violins and a new bass; the instrument he had longed for since leaving Julliard. 

However, Ayers could not lug the instruments around with him in the streets due to the fact that he could be mugged or have the instruments stolen while sleeping.  Therefore, Lopez and Ayers agreed that the instruments could be stored at a local special needs facility where Ayers could go any time he wanted to play and hopefully receive help.  Lopez realized that Ayers had mental disability and insecurities and if Ayers would spend time at the facility playing his violins and bass, he may decide to stay in one of the free apartments and get treated for his special needs. 

However, Nathaniel was stubborn and did not trust anyone.  He did not agree that he needed help and was perfectly content living on the streets and playing his violin in the tunnel.  After visiting the facility more, he began to let his guard down and even started staying in his apartment.  Lopez even contacts some of Ayers’ old friends and family, and sets up visitation with him in his apartment in Los Angeles’ Skid Row area. 

Through several mental breakdowns and stresses in their relationship, Ayers and Lopez learn to trust and understand each other in ways they never expected.  Lopez learns that Nathaniel has special needs and he cannot expect to change him over night.  Ayers learns that everyone is not out to get him, and that people really can be trusted.  They both learn that Nathaniel is still an amazing musician, and needs music in his life to stay content. 

In the end, Nathaniel gains a friend in Steve Lopez, becomes acquainted with old friends who are professional musicians, and has a safe place to live.  Not only does he have an apartment, but Lopez and the safe house dedicate a space to Nathaniel where he can practice and teach others to play.  They even name the music room after Nathaniel.  Overall, this book was an easy read, but extremely entertaining.  The story makes you feel good and give more appreciation to those with mental disabilities.  It also helps people realize that everyone has a story to their lives and deserves respect.  This book is rated 4.5 out of 5.