I am a long-time Doctorow fan, but this novel with its intriguing premise based on the real life of the Collyer brothers didn't capture me as Doctorow's other novels have. I'm still not quite sure why; perhaps because it encompassed too much of the American experience during the mid twentieth century and then jettisoned on to the next event. It is, of course, extremely well written, but somehow - for me - Homer and Langley as people got lost somewhere along the way. I expected to be grief-stricken at the end of their sad saga, but it simply didn't happen.
"Homer & Langley" is the tale of two brothers. Homer, the story's narrator, is blind. Langley is his older brother who is mad due to an incident with mustard gas during his tour of duty in World War I. The book chronicles the lives of the brothers as they grow old in their mansion in New York and increasingly separated from society. Their home becomes a storage facility as Langley collects everything from typewriters to books to newspapers to a Model T.
Readers are made aware of recognizable historical events through Homer's retelling of his life. These events, however, pass quickly and vaguely. No one event or relationship holds much power in the novel, with the exception of the relationship between these two men. Our narrator is blind and mostly house-bound. Therefore it is not unusual that the his representation of history is so detached.
I'm am sure there is a case to be made about the brilliance of such a story being told by a blind man, but that's not a case I would make. It can also be argued that the book plays out much like an experiment Langley has to create one newspaper that can represent all of history, boiling down events to archetypes. That is definitely an interesting possibility, but "Homer & Langley" merely hightlights how such an endeavor would ultimately fail.
In the end, "Homer & Langley" left me wanting more. I wanted to be able to better understand these unique characters through their place in history. But all I ever got of that was the slightest shadow. As soon as the book started to address a certain topic (World War II, prohibition, Vietnam) or relationship outside of that between the brothers, it would quickly move on to something new.
It is a testament to the two central characters that I can say I wanted more. Homer and Langley are not your usual protagonist. I very much enjoyed peeking into their world. I just wish I'd gotten a better view.
This is a fictionalized account of the famous Collyer brothers of New York City. The book is narrated by Homer, a savvy blind man who tolerates his brother's hijinks and plans. The story begins with the two brothers as children and discusses their relationships with their parents and household staff, and continues into their adult lives. Explanations are provided for the brothers' accumulation of stuff with an interesting insight. The novel is short but compelling and very well written!
Homer and Langley Collyer were real people who lived and died in the family mansion on 5th Ave. in Manhatten. E. L. Doctorow has written a moving, disturbing fictional account of their lives. To read this book is to be inside this house with Homer, blind, and eventually deaf who lives through his music, and his brother Langley disabled by mustard gas in the First World War. After their parents death in the Spanish Influenza epidemic, their mostly solitary lives became even more so. Though they have fleeting interaction with various characters, some lasting over a period of years, Langley in particular becomes more unbalanced as time goes on. A casual collection of miscellaneous objects of interest becomes over a period of time, overwhelming. At the time of their death it had accumulated to over 130 tons of trash. In the end Langley's misguided attempts to protect them from thieves is their undoing as Langley falls victim to one of his own elaborate booby traps, and without his brother to feed the now completely blind and deaf Homer starves to death. The telling, so alive through Doctorow's words and descriptions, the way these men spring again into life, is akin to reliving their story, so beautiful and sad as you follow them through the years and step by step into their doom. Only you are left to walk away... EXCELLENT!! ( )