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



HOMER and LANGLEY

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.

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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.

http://www.harlemonestop.com/organization.php?id=1047


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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.

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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.

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References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._L._Doctorow American Author

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow  Canadian Author and Blogger

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/books/review/Schillinger-t.html?_r=0
NY Times review.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collyer_brothers - Wiki

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35 comments:

  1. Never read any of his books before. Interesting that it's based on real people.

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    1. It's the story idea that got me interested. I sometimes discover new authors that way. I'd like to read 'Ragtime' now.

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  2. That sounds like a wonderful story. I need to read that.

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    1. I like Doctorow's imagining of 'how did they live', as opposed to others who only wanted to know about the demise.

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  3. This sounds fascinating...sad, and disturbing. I've never heard of them. I def want to read this....

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    1. Doctorow makes you care about these characters. They are swept along by circumstance as much as by their own undoing.

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  4. Haven't heard of this one before, but I do love historical fiction.

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    1. It's one of those stories that show us the dark side of America, when systems square off against the little man.

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  5. Never heard of them before, but this does sound interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

    ........dhole

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    1. You're welcome. I found it at the local library.

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  6. I haven't heard of them either, but I made note of the book and would like to read it.

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    1. I found it very interesting, Inger, and I know you like American history.

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  7. Oh this is terrible - I know I've read something by E.L. Doctorow, but it's been so long, right now I can't tell you what. Maybe Billy Bathgate??

    Anyhow, glad you enjoyed the story. Historical fiction is exactly the way I like to get my history.

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    1. History is much more palatable that way, Nicki! I agree, historical fiction converts the information from the dry text and gives it a personal interest. But I do like to know if a story is based on true facts, in case I want to research further.

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  8. I have not read any of Doctorow's work. The decline of these two brothers would probably make for an interesting story.

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    1. It never bored me, there was no sagging middle in this story. It's my first reading of his work, but won't be my last.

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  9. This book sounds intriguing. Hoarding, to me, is a mental illness, but it would be interesting to read about what happened to lead these two men to end up dying surrounded by tons of garbage. Sad.

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    1. Doctorow does a good job of imagining how they got to such a sad 'state of affairs'.

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  10. Susan's instincts run true. Hoarding is a form of mental illness. Which was why I stayed away from the book: from my years of being a counselor, I knew that the story of most hoarders end badly. I know of Doctorow from RAGTIME.

    I have heard of the Canadian flooding and people turned out of their homes, and since I only read the headlines, I worry about you!

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    1. The flooding is not near the Vancouver area, but near the border between British Columbia and Alberta, and especially in southern Alberta near several of their rivers. They have the power of a flash flood from the news we've seen. Thanks for worrying about us, Roland.

      I read the book to learn about the psychology behind hoarding. As a writer I like to know why people do what they do.

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  11. I have not read anything by E.L.Doctorow. Have been to New York - loved it. And I read anything I can get my hands on. Have even been known to read the back of cereal boxes and the phone-book. I could occupy myself for hours. True.

    Interesting post. As always.

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    1. Many thanks, Wendy. I've always wanted to visit NY. I plan to read Ragtime too, sometime in the future.

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    2. Saying that, I do 'not' read romance/erotica in any shape or form. Just not me. The phone-book would be far more enjoyable!

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  12. The first time I heard about the Collyer brothers it just curled my toes and gave me the serious heebie jeebies. I don't think I would have come across this novel on my own. Thanks, D.G., for always profiling such a stimulating, wide variety.

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    1. I try for a broad range, but generally these are books that catch my interest. I browse the shelves at the local library. Today I picked up a Hunter S. Thompson book (The Rum Diary).I also review self-pubbed books in some genres.

      This novel tells the story from the brothers' side of the fence.

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  13. I read all kinds of stuff...literary, autobiographies, all sorts of non fiction. I just love to read.

    And yes, I've been to NY City. I was born there!

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    1. New York City has always interested me, but amazingly, I've never been there. I'd love to visit the jazz clubs. Thanks for dropping by, Jay!

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  14. I have been to NYC--for conferences. Fortunately I did get to see some of it during my last visit. :D

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    1. Lucky you - there are several things I'd love to see. One day. . .

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  15. this subject disturbs me a lot--mainly because, i see myself as a very compassionate person--but i have no patience or sympathy for hoarders- and i know i should--i can't even watch the hoarders show, without feeling sick--but i do enjoy historical fiction :)

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    1. It's a little scary, since the inclination to hoard may come from a fear of not having what they need, OR from mental illness and not seeing the consequences of their actions. In Homer and Langley's case, they were both effectively disabled.

      Historical fiction exposes us to the drama of real life. We don't like what it says about our society. NY at this time employed tough tactics for those who didn't conform.

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  16. I don't read a lot of historical fiction but my father does. I need to mention this book to him because I think he'd enjoy it plus, he was born in NY. Thanks for the review. (:

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    1. An excellent idea, Elise. I feature these types of books so that others will be aware of them. I enjoyed the book, as I like to see what the human spirit is capable of. I want to read Ragtime, now, by the same author.

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  17. Ohhh... I LOVE historical fiction... and war history... Thanks for this special highlight. I haven't read any of his work!

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    1. I find these novels when I'm browsing with hubs at the library. If the blurb interests me or I recognize the author or the basic story, I pick them up. Give it a try, Morgan.

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