The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the novel’s narrative present, RL exists only in the memories of those he touched with his music. RL’s Dream begins with an epigraph from the book that Soupspoon is writing. Titled Backroad to the Blues and given a publication date of 1986, this fictitious book is the culmination of Soupspoon’s struggle to write his autobiography, which is also the story of the blues. The blues, Soupspoon writes, are symbolized by RL, “no real man” but a mythic figure, “Delta blue from the bottom of his soul. He was the blues; he is today.” By dreaming of RL, Soupspoon provides the geography of the blues, explaining to the young Kiki that talented musicians had to disguise their genius by imitating racist stereotypes of slack-jawed, clownish African Americans. RL refused to bow to this form of degradation, paying the physical and mental price for his independence: “Ain’t no start to his misery,” Soupspoon’s book says of RL, “An’ death could not never ease his kinda pain.”

Soupspoon has reached a moment when he feels the need to account for his life. Although music has always been his focus, he has stopped playing. Only through Kiki’s intervention is he able to surmount his misery and find work again, playing his guitar in a friend’s club and looking up his ex-wife, who has her own fond memories of RL. Soupspoon knows he does not have long to live, so he wants to make every moment count. He even surprises himself by discovering he can still make love to a much younger woman. It hurts him to play the blues, but the music is also an uplifting, indeed an ecstatic, way of dealing with his sorrow.

Kiki feels Soupspoon’s pain and provides him with the money to buy a tape recorder. Her reckless disregard for her own safety leads to more complications and danger, yet she escapes the seemingly inevitable tragic trajectory of her life, returning home to Arkansas and to an unexpected good fortune. She will never know what happens to Soupspoon, however. A fugitive from justice, she awaits her fate with seeming equanimity.