Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homer & Langley: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow

I've been a fan of Doctorow since reading Ragtime, though that was the only one of his books I'd read.  Since I've been interested in the Collyer brothers (two of NYC's most famous hoarders), I thought Homer & Langley would be a good read.  It was.

Homer Collyer narrates the story of his life, from a well-off childhood, through his loss of eyesight in his teens, the Spanish Flu epidemic, the World Wars, and the increasingly bizarre behavior of his brother and his obsessive collecting.  As he did in Ragtime, Doctorow manages to infuse his story with the societal and technological changes that happened over the brothers' lifetime - Victorian formality replaced by the summer of love, Model Ts by moon launches, and an upper-class 5th Avenue neighborhood crumbling with the onslaught of the '70s (Doctorow takes major liberties with their true life stories, reversing the order of their birth, pushing their birth years forward, letting them live to see the '70s, changing the details of their parents' deaths, etc.).

Anyone familiar with the history of the Collyer brothers knows what fate is waiting for Homer at the end of the tale, but Doctorow handles it so aptly, that the emotional impact of the final paragraph of the book is astounding.

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