Hoarding is a psychological disease that conscripts the afflicted into a self-created squalor. Hoarders compulsively accumulate valueless items and refuse to throw away any junk because they believe the items will be needed or will have value in the future. Hoarding often creates such unfit living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. In the context of E.L. Doctorow's marvelous new book this behavior seems completely logical.
The Collyer Brothers are the last droplets of a blue blood line. The duo comes of age during the tectonic shift from stuffy Victorian culture to the modern era, forced abruptly into adulthood by the early death of their aristocratic parents. In order to have some control over the rapidly shape-shifting culture, the two men, mostly Langley, aggregate the ephemera and symbols of...
Beyond the Book
The Real Homer and Langley
The Collyer brothers of Doctorow's novel, like many of his fictional characters, are based on historical personalities. Though he shifts the time-period up a few decades and re-imagines the brothers, the bones of the narrative can be found in the headlines of decades past.
The real Homer Collyer (b. 1881) was found dead in his dilapidated Fifth Avenue mansion in Harlem in 1943. Homer and his younger brother Langley (b. 1885) had become infamous in Manhattan for their exorbitant wealth and reclusive lifestyle during the early 1930s. For close to two decades neighbors and municipal officers tried to have the brothers evicted due to...