Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langleys proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers wars, political movements, technological advances and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians... and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves.
Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New Yorks fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer.
Literally walled off, the brothers reinforce Doctorow's motif of isolation, embodying the modern mood of alienation that permeated 20th century culture. A fantastic feat completed through mundane means. (Reviewed by Natasha Vargas-Cooper).
The Los Angeles Times - David Ulin
The author tells another uniquely American story, but he falls short of a big challenge. [Much of Homer and Langley] fails to reflect the complex, messy exigencies of either history or life.
The Washington Post
Doctorow again creatively reconfigures and amplifies the historical record…There's a briskness to Homer & Langley that never flags, and its solitary protagonists—two lost souls—possess a half-comical, half-nightmarish fascination.
The Wall Street Journal
If the novel succeeds in making us care about the Collyers, the reason is Mr. Doctorow's own whiplash use of language, a daring, poetic meditation in prose of the kind that is familiar from his earlier novels, such as Ragtime,Billy Bathgate and The March.
The New York Times
The achievement of Doctorow's masterly, compassionate double portrait is that it succeeds for 200 pages in suspending the snigger, elevating the Collyers beyond caricature and turning them into creatures of their times instead of figures of fun.
Usually a master at incorporating history into rich fiction, Doctorow offers few insights here and a narrator/hero who is never more than a cipher.
Starred Review. It's a feat of distillation, vision and sympathy.
Starred Review. Doctorow in a minor key but as accomplished as ever.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Louisa Tucker Converse Homer and Langley - A Study In Perspective Homer and Langley Collyer were a pair of brothers who were caught up in the madness created by their own minds; Homer was the more dominant, Langley the pliable and amenable. Mr. Doctorow fails to give them even the semblance of human beings and... Read More
Rated of 5
by deb hone so captivated i read it twice. I would recommend this book to everyone, you will find a little piece of Langley and Homer in yourself, very relate-able characters. people that are hoarders really need to read this book. This book should be available in every public school library. Read More
Rated of 5
by JD Eloquence I read in several "professional" reviews that Mr. D. does not go far enough into the minds of these fascinating characters or the history of the times that surround them. I must say this is called eloquence. When an author of his ability... Read More
Rated of 5
by PDXReader Good, but not great Historical fiction should offer a new perspective on real-life events or people, adding details created by the author to supplement what is known and factual. I felt like Doctorow didn’t do enough of that. The book, to me, felt a bit too “light,”... Read More
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 their refusal to dispose of rubbish and pay taxes, but the two remained in their brownstone their entire lives. Eventually living without water, power, or plumbing, it was up to Langley to scavenge subsistence for the two. The newspapers regularly covered the habits and eccentricities of the...
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...