From Ragtime and Billy Bathgate to The Book of Daniel, Worlds Fair, and The March, the novels of E. L. Doctorow comprise one of the most substantive achievements of modern American fiction. Now, with Homer & Langley, this master novelist has once again created an unforgettable work.
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.
Homer and Langley
Im Homer, the blind brother, I didn't lose my sight all at once, it was like the movies, a slow fade-out. When I was told what was happening I was interested to measure it, I was in my late teens then, keen on everything. What I did this particular winter was to stand back from the lake in Central Park where they did all their ice skating and see what I could see and couldnt see as a day-by-day thing. The houses over to Central Park West went first, they got darker as if dissolving into the dark sky until I couldnt make them out, and then the trees began to lose their shape, and then finally, this was toward the end of the season, maybe it was late February of that very cold winter, and all I could see were these phantom shapes of the ice skaters floating past me on a field of ice, and then the white ice, that last light, went gray and then altogether black, and then all my sight was gone though I could hear clearly the scoot scut of the ...
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 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...
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