Wednesday, June 19, 2013

E.L. Doctorow - 'Homer and Langley' - New York Stories

A tale of two brothers

Born into privilege in a stately house in New York's Fifth Avenue district, Homer and Langley are the Collyer Brothers. This novel details how their lives descended from being socially adept to being unacceptable recluses in a world of their own making.

Cover, Homer and Langley, E L Doctorow


How does one become a hoarder? It starts with a purpose that requires the collection of something. The Collyer brothers were more than mere hoarders. They had principles, the kind that liked to fight repression of the individual, especially against City Hall. Money wasn't the issue. Langley, the older brother, fought every grab at squashing their independence. Homer, the musician, trusted in the brother who tried to care for him, and never questioned his ideas.

A blind man, and a gas-damaged war veteran battle against the city of New York. Others came and stayed in their house and their lives for a short time: untrustworthy hired help, male and female, old-style gangsters and opportunists who saw an advantage. When their attempts to fit into society failed, the two brothers withdrew into their own world and collected things they might need.

At one point, near the end, Homer meets French journalist, Jacqueline Roux, a writer for Le Monde. She is trying to 'get' the flavor of America, and tells Homer he is a hero in France. She encourages him to write about the life he and his brother have lived. Amazed but interested, Homer begins to relate what he remembers. It's a fascinating tale.

By the end of the book, the media has manufactured interest in the brothers and the civil fights begin to take on a deadly ominous air. Our narrator, the blind brother, can do little to stop the progress of their slide into destruction.


Historical fiction is something I enjoy. This was the first of Doctorow's work that I read, but I remembered hearing about the story of the Collyer Brothers.  I was highly entertained, even cheering for the brothers in certain spots.

Doctorow imagined this story based on the real life of the Collyer Brothers. For more information on the brothers and the house, see the link below. This article shows a photograph of the Collyer brownstone. The setting needs to be seen so you get the scope of the hoarding.


Edgar Lawrence, or E. L. Doctorow, born in 1931 is an American author, named for 'Edgar' Allan Poe. He writes unique works of historical fiction. He is also the author of Ragtime, written in 1975 and also set in NY city.

A clarification:
Cory (Efram) Doctorow is a Canadian-British blogger, journalist, and science fiction author. Some readers may be more familiar with Cory, but these two writers are similar only in surname and their facility with words.


Do you wonder how many other disabled out there exist like these two brothers? Have you read anything by E.L. Doctorow? Ever been to New York City? Do you read literary authors or stick with genre authors?  (I like both.)

Had you heard of the Collyer Brothers before? Please share in the comments.


References: American Author  Canadian Author and Blogger
NY Times review. - Wiki