Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp
E.L. Doctorow’s most recent novel, Homer and Langley, is the story of the real-life Collyer brothers, who dwelt in eccentric seclusion in a crumbling Fifth Avenue mansion—the key word here being eccentric. Homer, the narrator of the story, is blind from early adulthood. Homer’s brother, Langley, was poisoned by mustard gas in World War I and is disabled. These two brothers are the ragged remnants of a once-proud, once-wealthy New York family. They both long for love and some kind of connection with the world but never really find it in a satisfying way. They are broken men, living their reclusive lives in their odd museum of a house. At times their lives are touched by others—whether it’s gangsters, girlfriends, servants, hippies, or someone they meet on the street—but these “others” always move on and leave Homer and Langley just as they were, lonely and alone.
Homer’s and Langley’s lives span from World War I through the turbulent sixties and beyond. Langley is the dominant force of the pair. He is often mercurial (possibly insane) and frequently at odds with someone, whether it’s the utility companies, the city, the police, or neighbor children who throw rocks at the house. He piles up the house with junk that he collects from around the city and never uses (he has a Model-T Ford in the dining room). His all-consuming passion, though, is newspapers, which are stacked from floor to ceiling in every room in the house. He collects every edition of every newspaper he can find, the unobtainable object being to compile a one-time edition of a newspaper that will serve for all time. Homer, the blind brother, is the more sensible, the more contemplative, of the two. He deals with the money worries and tolerates his brother’s whims and tries the best he can, in spite of his limitations, to keep things running smoothly.
Homer and Langley is the latest by one of America’s best and most enduring writers. In a little over two hundred pages, it manages to be a breezy reading experience, entertaining and engaging, rather than challenging or profound.
Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp