Homer and Langley, by E.L. Doctorow (New York: Random House, 2009).
Jacket summary: "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 Langley's 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 household lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves."
Opening line: "I'm Homer, the blind brother."
My take: Didn't know quite what to expect here, but this was an interesting book. Loosely based on the famous if bizarre lives of the real Collyer brothers (no, I'd not heard of them either, but they died in the 1940s), it follows 2 Fifth Avenue recluses from their childhood and youth (long-haired pianist Homer goes blind; Langley goes off to fight the Great War and comes back ... different) in the 1910s, through their brushes with the Jazz Age (their long-time cook's grandson becomes a jazz horn player of some renown before moving South to wed and ultimately dying in WWII), Great Depression, and mid-20th century gangsters, and eventually providing a temporary crash pad for a tribe of hippies in the 1960s. Aside from the historical background, not much actually happens to the brothers -- largely, they become increasingly withdrawn and reclusive while the outside world transforms itself -- and normally, this bothers me in a story. Not here, though; the characters and their/ Doctorow's observations on 20th century history and progress make for compelling reading even without an action-packed plot. As was my experience with Ragtime, I find Doctorow a bit slow going in places, but I always feel richer for having read it. Homer and Langley is no exception.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.