The Soloist (Review)

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The Soloist
Steve Lopez, 2008
304 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
July 2009

Schizophrenia is an equal opportunity disease, a fact never more evident than its attack on a once brilliant Julliard student turned street musician and homeless man. As author Steve Lopez says toward the end of his wonderful recounting: rich or poor, brilliant or not...

Mental illness...shows no mercy and often arrives like an unexpected storm, dropping an endless downpour on young dreams.

Lopez meets 50+ year-old Nathaniel Anthony Ayers on a Los Angeles street corner playing his 2-stringed violin in what sounds to Lopez like a fairly accomplished performance. As a columnist for the L.A. Times, Lopez decides Nathaniel would make an interesting topic for his newspaper column. So he writes his story...gets a huge reader response...and then continues to follow, help, and befriend this oddly charismatic, brilliant, and desperately ill man over the course of two years. He brings us along on the journey.

Nathaniel resists treatment. He'd had his fill 30 years ago—hospitalization, drugs, and electroshock therapy—after having to leave Julliard School of Music. But as Lopez finds out, treatment options today have changed, incorporating not just more advanced drugs but, more importantly, a carefully monitored program to help patients function as productive human beings. The book details the struggle to bring Ayers back into the realm of human activity.

Read this book! It's a great story—about a rewarding friendship between two unlikey individuals. For book club discussions, show clips from the 2009 film, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. Or do some research on schizophrenia and the new treatment theories. It would be a great book club meeting—an engaging book and lively discussion!

See our Reading Guide for The Soloist.

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