The Fiddler in the Subway
This collection of features by Pulitzer prize winner Gene Weingarten confirms his reputation as one of the best.
Gene Weingarten is a skilled magazine and newspaper feature writer and has been for a long time. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes and other honors. Still, describing the 20 pieces of his writing collected in The Fiddler in the Subway as “virtuoso performances” (as the book’s subtitle does) could have been a bad marketing call; it sounds so immodest.Skip to next paragraph
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However, fortunately for Weingarten and readers, it turns out that that description constitutes righteous bragging. Without exception, these features merit that praise. So does the seven-page introduction about Weingarten’s development as a reporter and writer.
I have read – nay, pored over – hundreds of collections by other skilled writers, including Jessica Mitford, Calvin Trillin, Madeleine Blais, Walt Harrington, Mike Sager, Susan Orlean, Mark Bowden, John McPhee, Edna Buchanan, Ron Rosenbaum, David Maraniss, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, and Gary Smith. Weingarten’s collection is now officially on my list of superb periodical narrative journalism available in book form.
The title feature story won the Pulitzer Prize two years ago. Its genesis: Weingarten, who is in his late 50s now, was exiting the subway in Washington, D.C., when he saw a middle-aged man in a grimy trench coat playing a Beethoven composition on an electric keyboard. The man obviously exhibited talent, and also obviously needed money. An open instrument case near his feet contained a couple of dollar bills and some coins. “People were scurrying past him as though he was some sort of annoyance,” Weingarten says in an introduction to his reprinted story. “When I dropped in a buck, his look of gratitude was heartbreaking.” (Each of the collected feature stories contains an introduction, and some contain a postscript. That is a value-added feature of the book that I appreciate.)