Homer and Langley

Homer and Langley

by E. L. Doctorow

Audio CD(Unabridged)

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From Ragtime and Billy Bathgate to The Book of Daniel, World’s 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 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 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 York’s 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780739334164
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

E. L. Doctorow’s works of fiction include Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, The Waterworks, City of God, The March, Homer & Langley, and Andrew’s Brain. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/ Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. In 2014 he was honored with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.


Sag Harbor, New York, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 6, 1931

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


A.B., Kenyon College, 1952; postgraduate study, Columbia University, 1952-53

Read an Excerpt

I’m 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 blades on the ice, a very satisfying sound, a soft sound though full of intention, a deeper tone than you’d expect made by the skate blades, perhaps for having sounded the resonant basso of the water under the ice, scoot scut, scoot scut. I would hear someone going someplace fast, and then the twirl into that long scurratch as the skater spun to a stop, and then I laughed too for the joy of that ability of the skater to come to a dead stop all at once, going along scoot scut and then scurratch.

Of course I was sad too, but it was lucky this happened to me when I was so young with no idea of being disabled, moving on in my mind to my other capacities like my exceptional hearing, which I trained to a degree of alertness that was almost visual. Langley said I had ears like a bat and he tested that proposition, as he liked to subject everything to review. I was of course familiar with our house, all four storeys of it, and could navigate every room and up and down the stairs without hesitation, knowing where everything was by memory. I knew the drawing room, our father’s study, our mother’s sitting room, the dining room with its eighteen chairs and the walnut long table, the butler’s pantry and the kitchens, the parlor, the bedrooms, I remembered how many of the carpeted steps there were between the floors, I didn’t even have to hold on to the railing, you could watch me and if you didn’t know me you wouldn’t know my eyes were dead. But Langley said the true test of my hearing capacity would come when no memory was involved, so he shifted things around a bit, taking me into the music room, where he had earlier rolled the grand piano around to a different corner and had put the Japanese folding screen with the herons in water in the middle of the room, and for good measure twirled me around in the doorway till my entire sense of direction was obliterated, and I had to laugh because don’t you know I walked right around that folding screen and sat down at the piano exactly as if I knew where he had put it, as I did, I could hear surfaces, and I said to Langley, A blind bat whistles, that’s the way he does it, but I didn’t have to whistle, did I? He was truly amazed, Langley is the older of us by two years, and I have always liked to impress him in whatever way I could. At this time he was already a college student in his first year at Columbia. How do you do it? he said. This is of scientific interest. I said: I feel shapes as they push the air away, or I feel heat from things, you can turn me around till I’m dizzy, but I can still tell where the air is filled in with something solid.

And there were other compensations as well. I had tutors for my education and then, of course, I was comfortably enrolled in the West End Conservatory of Music, where I had been a student since my sighted years. My skill as a pianist rendered my blindness acceptable in the social world. As I grew older, people spoke of my gallantry, and the girls certainly liked me. In our New York society of those days, one parental means of ensuring a daughter’s marriage to a suitable husband was to warn her, from birth it seemed, to watch out for men and to not quite trust them. This was well before the Great War, when the days of the flapper and women smoking cigarettes and drinking martinis were in the unimaginable future. So a handsome young blind man of reputable family was particularly attractive insofar as he could not, even in secret, do anything untoward. His helplessness was very alluring to a woman trained since birth, herself, to be helpless. It made her feel strong, in command, it could bring out her sense of pity, it could do lots of things, my sightlessness. She could express herself, give herself to her pent-up feelings, as she could not safely do with a normal fellow. I dressed very well, I could shave myself with my straight razor and never nick the skin, and at my instructions the barber kept my hair a bit longer than it was being worn in that day, so that when at some gathering I sat at the piano and played the Appassionata, for instance, or the Revolutionary Étude, my hair would fly about—I had a lot of it then, a good thick mop of brown hair parted in the middle and coming down each side of my head. Franz Lisztian hair is what it was. And if we were sitting on a sofa and no one was about, a young lady friend might kiss me, touch my face and kiss me, and I, being blind, could put my hand on her thigh without seeming to have that intention, and so she might gasp, but would leave it there for fear of embarrassing me.

I should say that as a man who never married I have been particularly sensitive to women, very appreciative in fact, and let me admit right off that I had a sexual experience or two in this time I am describing, this time of my blind city life as a handsome young fellow not yet twenty, when our parents were still alive and had many soirees, and entertained the very best people of the city in our home, a monumental tribute to late Victorian design that would be bypassed by modernity—as for instance the interior fashions of our family friend Elsie de Wolfe, who, after my father wouldn’t allow her to revamp the entire place, never again set foot in our manse—and which I always found comfortable, solid, dependable, with its big upholstered pieces, or tufted Empire side chairs, or heavy drapes over the curtains on the ceiling-to-floor windows, or medieval tapestries hung from gilt poles, and bow-windowed bookcases, thick Persian rugs, and standing lamps with tasseled shades and matching chinois amphora that you could almost step into…it was all very eclectic, being a record of sorts of our parents’ travels, and cluttered it might have seemed to outsiders, but it seemed normal and right to us and it was our legacy, Langley’s and mine, this sense of living with things assertively inanimate, and having to walk around them.

Our parents went abroad for a month every year, sailing away on one ocean liner or another, waving from the railing of some great three- or four-stacker—the Carmania, the Mauretania, the Neuresthania—as she pulled away from the dock. They looked so small up there, as small as I felt with my hand in the tight hand of my nurse, and the ship’s horn sounding in my feet and the gulls flying about as if in celebration, as if something really fine was going on. I used to wonder what would happen to my father’s patients while he was away, for he was a prominent women’s doctor and I worried that they would get sick and maybe die, waiting for him to return.

Even as my parents were running around England, or Italy, or Greece or Egypt, or wherever they were, their return was presaged by things in crates delivered to the back door by the Railway Express Company: ancient Islamic tiles, or rare books, or a marble water fountain, or busts of Romans with no noses or missing ears, or antique armoires with their fecal smell.

And then, finally, with great huzzahs, there, after I’d almost forgotten all about them, would be Mother and Father themselves stepping out of the cab in front of our house, and carrying in their arms such treasures as hadn’t preceded them. They were not entirely thoughtless parents for there were always presents for Langley and me, things to really excite a boy, like an antique toy train that was too delicate to play with, or a gold-plated hairbrush.

we did some traveling as well, my brother and I, being habitual summer campers in our youth. Our camp was in Maine on a coastal plateau of woods and fields, a good place to appreciate Nature. The more our country lay under blankets of factory smoke, the more the coal came rattling up from the mines, the more our massive locomotives thundered through the night and big harvesting machines sliced their way through the crops and black cars filled the streets, blowing their horns and crashing into one another, the more the American people worshipped Nature. Most often this devotion was relegated to the children. So there we were living in primitive cabins in Maine, boys and girls in adjoining camps.

I was in the fullness of my senses, then. My legs were limber and my arms strong and sinewy and I could see the world with all the unconscious happiness of a fourteen-year-old. Not far from the camps, on a bluff overlooking the ocean, was a meadow profuse with wild blackberry bushes, and one afternoon numbers of us were there plucking the ripe blackberries and biting into their wet warm pericarped pulp, competing with flights of bumblebees, as we raced them from one bush to another and stuffed the berries into our mouths till the juice dripped down our chins. The air was thickened with floating communities of gnats that rose and fell, expanding and contracting, like astronomical events. And the sun shone on our heads, and behind us at the foot of the cliff were the black and silver rocks patiently taking and breaking apart the waves and, beyond that, the glittering sea radiant with shards of sun, and all of it in my clear eyes as I turned in triumph to this one girl with whom I had bonded, Eleanor was her name, and stretched my arms wide and bowed as the magician who had made it for her. And somehow when the others moved on we lingered conspiratorially behind a thicket of blackberry bushes until the sound of them was gone and we were there unattended, having broken camp rules, and so self-defined as more grown-up than anyone believed, though we grew reflective walking back, holding hands without even realizing it.

Is there any love purer than this, when you don’t even know what it is? She had a moist warm hand, and dark eyes and hair, this Eleanor. Neither of us was embarrassed by the fact that she was a good head taller than me. I remember her lisp, the way her tongue tip was caught between her teeth when she pronounced her S’s. She was not one of the socially self-assured ones who abounded in the girls’ side of the camp. She wore the uniform green shirt and gray bloomers they all wore but she was something of a loner, and in my eyes she seemed distinguished, fetching, thoughtful, and in some state of longing analogous to my own—for what, neither of us could have said. This was my first declared affection and so serious that even Langley, who lived in another cabin with his age group, did not tease me. I wove a lanyard for Eleanor and cut and stitched a model birch bark canoe for her.

Oh, but this is a sad tale I have wandered into. The boys’ and girls’ camps were separated by a stand of woods through the length of which was a tall wire fence of the kind to keep animals out and so it was a major escapade at night for the older boys to climb over or dig under this fence and challenge authority by running through the girls’ camp shouting and dodging pursuing counselors, and banging on cabin doors so as to elicit delighted shrieks. But Eleanor and I breached the fence to meet after everyone was asleep and to wander about under the stars and talk philosophically about life. And that’s how it happened that on one warm August night we found ourselves down the road a mile or so at a lodge dedicated like our camp to getting back to nature. But it was for adults, for parents. Attracted by a flickering light in the otherwise dark manse we tiptoed up on the porch and through the window saw a shocking thing, what in later time would be called a blue movie. Its licentious demonstration was taking place on a portable screen something like a large window shade. In the reflected light we could see in silhouette an audience of attentive adults leaning forward in their chairs and sofas. I remember the sound of the projector not that far from the open window, the whirring sound it made, like a field of cicadas. The woman on the screen, naked but for a pair of high-heeled shoes, lay on her back on a table and the man, also naked, stood holding her legs under the knees so that she was proffered to receive his organ, of which he made sure first to exhibit its enormity to his audience. He was an ugly bald skinny man with just that one disproportionate feature to distinguish him. As he shoved himself again and again into the woman she was given to pulling her hair while her legs kicked up convulsively, each shoe tip jabbing the air in rapid succession, as if she’d been jolted with an electric current. I was rapt—horrified, but also thrilled to a level of unnatural feeling that was akin to nausea. I do not wonder now that with the invention of moving pictures, their pornographic possibilities were immediately understood.

Did my friend gasp, did she tug at my hand to pull me away? If she did I would not have noticed. But when I was sufficiently recovered in my senses I turned and she was nowhere to be seen. I ran back the way we had come, and on this moonlit night, a night as black and white as the film, I could see no one on the road ahead of me. The summer had some weeks to go but my friend Eleanor never spoke to me again, or even looked my way, a decision I accepted as an accomplice, by gender, of the male performer. She was right to run from me, for on that night romance was unseated in my mind and in its place was enthroned the idea that sex was something you did to them, to all of them including poor shy tall Eleanor. It is a puerile illusion, hardly worthy of a fourteen-year-old mind, yet it persists among grown men even as they meet women more avidly copulative than they.

Reading Group Guide

1. Homer & Langley was inspired by the real-life Collyer brothers—recluses who actually lived in a Fifth Avenue townhouse filled with rubble until their deaths in the late 1940s. Doctorow took some creative liberties in his retelling of their story—namely, extending the brothers’ lives by several decades. Why do you think Doctorow made these factual changes, and how would you say this affects the impact of their story as a whole?
2. Why do you think Doctorow chose to write from Homer’s point of view? How would the novel have been different if Langley was the narrator? 
3. Homer and Langley lose their parents to Spanish influenza while Langley is abroad fighting in World War I. Do you think the brothers’ lives would have been different had their parents survived? How? How did the war affect Langley? 
4. Describe Homer and Langley as individuals. How do they change over the course of the novel? How do their opinions of the outside world change? How does their relationship as brothers change?
5. Langley's hoarding escalates to a new level when he installs a Model T Ford car in the dining room. Grandmamma Robileaux thinks the appearance of the Ford is a sure sign that Langley is completely out of his mind. Homer says, “My brother is a brilliant man. There is some intelligent purpose behind this, I can assure you” (79). Is Homer right? Is there a purpose behind Langley’s compulsions? Or is he out of his mind, as Grandmamma fears? 
6. A central component of the novel is Langley's "Theory of Replacements," which he explains to Homer before going off to war: “Everything in life gets replaced. We are our parents’ replacements just as they were replacements of the previous generation” (14). Langley continues to develop his theory throughout the novel, and it is the basis for the master newspaper he is creating, which will be "one day's edition of a newspaper that could be read forevermore as sufficient to any day thereof" (48). What do you make of Langley’s "Theory of Replacements"? How does it evolve throughout the course of the brothers' lives? 
7. Several characters move in and out of the Collyers’ home over the years. Consider these individuals and the roles they played in the brothers’ lives: Julia, Siobhan, Grandmamma Robileaux, Harold Robileaux, Vincent, the Hoshiyamas, Lissy and her friends, and others. What did the brothers learn from these people? What did you learn about the brothers from their interactions with these individuals?
8. Things take a turn for the worse when Grandmamma Robileaux goes back to New Orleans. Homer reflects: “Grandmamma had been the last connection to our past. I had understood her as some referent moral authority to whom we paid no heed, but by whose judgments we measured our waywardness” (100). What do you make of this statement, knowing how things end up for the Collyer brothers? If Grandmamma had stayed in the house, would things have been different?
9. Homer loses his eyesight while he is still quite young, but his other senses are quite advanced. In conversation with his brother, Langley tells him, “Among the philosophers there is endless debate as to whether we see the real world or only the world as it appears in our minds, which is not necessarily the same thing” (47). Homer responds, “Well, maybe it’ll turn out I have eyes as good as anyone’s” (47). Discuss the issue of sight and perception, and how it plays out in the novel. 
10. Until they are shut down by the police, the Collyer brothers host tea dances in their home as an opportunity for neighbors to drink, listen to music, and cut loose. How did you reconcile the reclusive figures at the end of the novel with the livelier men who hosted these neighborhood social events?

11. The brothers both have complicated—and ultimately unproductive—relationships with women throughout the book. Discuss the various women in their lives: from Julia to Mary Elizabeth Riordan to Lila van Dijk to Anna to Jacqueline. Why do you think neither man ever found lasting love?
12. What did you make of Homer’s relationship (or lack thereof) with Jacqueline Roux, his “muse”?
13. At the end of the novel, the brothers are together in the house, but alone with their thoughts in different rooms. The final sentence is chilling, as Homer asks, “Where is my brother?” (208). What did you think of novel’s conclusion? 
14. Through the eyes of the Collyer brothers, Doctorow shows us a vision of New York City from the 1930s through the 1960's. Discuss the different eras and the historical significance of each. 

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Homer and Langley 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 155 reviews.
tamesthetic More than 1 year ago
its a story that blooms inside you. memorable characters. reading it was like chatting with an old friend and getting deep inside their personal ideology. the story tells of how the blind see deeply and how blind the sighted can be. definitely a permanent library book. great piece of american literature.
AlexLovesToRead More than 1 year ago
My family often refers to the Collyer brothers as a way to (hopefully) inspire some house cleaning. My parents are native New Yorkers and clearly remember the tale of these wealthy siblings, trapped by their mental illnesses and the inherited money that allowed them to exist in such a bizarre manner. Although this is a fictionalized account of the real life Collyers, it reads as non-fiction. The plan to write a "memoir" is very well executed. I truly enjoyed this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Doctorow has an incredible ability to bring his characters to life. He draws you into this story with his unique and poetic use of the language and one can't help but to get hooked by his prose. A must read!
lavendergreen More than 1 year ago
E. L. Doctorow's take on these historical brothers is masterful. He has crafted a story for the reader to understand how the two privileged Collyer brothers might have ended up reclusive and lonely. This epic tale encompasses wars, political movements, police corruption and advancing technology in a spellbinding way. The reader of this audiobook brilliantly made the pages come alive and the characters real. I highly recommend this book, which is in the class of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate.
Maximillian More than 1 year ago
I like reading this style of story. If you read it, just be sure to do a little bit of research first. Don't take the storyline as gospel truth, but Doctorow certainly does pesent a very plausible look into the mind of Homer. I do even know some people with similar housekeeping habits!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I would not classify this as Doctorow's finest work, even when he's mediocre, quite honestly, he's so far superior to most of what else is out there, that this is well worth the read. Doctorow's ability to create fiction based upon historical events and people is always pleasing and satisfying. I'm a fan of Doctorow and have read all of his work and would have no problem recommending "Homer and Langley" to other readers.
AmericanPirate More than 1 year ago
The book was interesting and enjoyable right up until the last 20 pages or so. Doctorow did a good job developing the main characters, and his first person narrative style is incredibly engaging. The way that Homer relates his life is moving, and it's delivery makes one feel like one is listening to an old man on his back porch thinking aloud about his younger days. The part that makes the book horrible is its ending. The author takes this tale of life, with all of its ups and downs, and ends it in such a depressing manner completely unbefitting the rest of the book. I'm not asking for a happy ending to all of the tales that I read, but this one was way out of line. I do not recommend this book to anyone, but if you feel the need to read it, put it down early before the ending ruins the entirety of the tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this fascinating journey through history from the viewpoint of the two brothers. But I don't recommend this book as an e-book until B & N fixes the problem with the disappearing margins. Half-way through the book, the nicely spaced margins disappeared. This was on the Medium Font setting. The words were right next to the edges of the screen which made for uncomfortable reading. I just read a review of another e-book and a similar problem was described as an 'e-book format problem'. This is only the second book I've purchased to read on my new Nook. Barnes & Noble should not release books in e-book form until they get the formatting correct. I look forward to reading many more books on my Nook and trust this book-seller will address this issue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book but frankly was annoyed by the factual inaccuracy. Am not sure why it was necessary to change the story of two very real and very weird eccentrics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The wrtting style was fine. The story of Brother whom my Mother used to say I was like was really interesting. I thought the book lacked direction. It seemed the writer was taking my from place to place with no real pattern, or meaning for being there. All in all, it was not bad. I think the best part for me, was I was able to re-live the New York City area.
thewanderingjew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Collyer brothers were real. Doctorow has brilliantly told a fictionalized account of their lives. Both brothers were disabled. Homer became blind in his teens and Langley was war wounded from exposure to mustard gas in World War I. He was also surely emotionally damaged, perhaps from the war, and mentally unstable. His preferred state of isolation from the world took his blind brother, Homer, with him. They had few outside relationships and at the end of their lives, none at all, although Homer imagines a relationship with Jacqueline, after a brief meeting in Central Park, which takes him into his final days.Coming from a background filled with the silver spoons of wealth, the brothers slowly descend into a world of eccentricity and reclusiveness. Shuttered inside their once beautiful home, they decline with the house as it rots around them, filled with the detritus of Langley¿s obsession with newspapers and other objects he collects, like a model ¿t¿, which inhabits the dining room. The story is told through the ¿blind eyes¿ of Homer¿s memories, and he is a wonderful narrator, interjecting just the right amount of wit, tension and emotion. His inner vision is clear and sharp. After the unexpected death of their parents from disease, Homer and Langley were too young and ill prepared to handle the responsibilities facing them. They were not trained to handle the decisions of adulthood or the management of a home as large as theirs. Homer¿s memories take us through the history of the 20th century, as they would have lived it, in Doctorow's imagination. The author has given the brothers a longer life than they had in real life, and thus we are given a bird¿s eye view of most of the momentous occurrences during that time. We experience silent movies, the prohibition and the lives of some hoodlums, the depression, squatters and flower children, the birth of rock and roll, blackouts, moon landings, assassinations, and so many other beginnings and ends of several monumental events in a century of change.The brothers were strange, to say the least. Although they shut out the world and preferred only each other (Homer may have not had a choice, given his physical condition), they managed to exist without most creature comforts as their interaction with the world diminished completely. Dunning notices came from everywhere, since they paid bills without rhyme or reason. As water, gas, electricity, phone were shut off, still they did not succumb to the constraints of normal existence, of normal society and defiantly held forth, somehow surviving the outrages life presented to them.Living in a decaying mansion, they were surrounded by the detritus of their existence, piled floor to ceiling: boxes, papers, memorabilia, which eventually created an almost unnavigable obstacle course and an environment which was a health hazard. Homer seemed to have his moments when he realizes that his life may not be the way he wants to live it, but for the most part, he is helpless to change it, and he supports his brothers strange lifestyle, wondering at odd moments if Langley is perhaps insane; they are ¿partners in crime¿. He is mostly a happy participant in this aberrational living condition. They seem to be enough for each other and need no one else, except for the occasional servant, early on. Langley is Homer¿s caretaker and care for him he does. If Homer was not blind, if he could see the surroundings he was in, he might not have been such a willing participant, since he seemed the saner of the two. In the end, Homer is alone and we realize how shut off and isolated he truly is as he loses all of his important senses, and wishes for madness so as not to bear witness to all he has lost and missed.
chrystal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hmmm, I couldn't put this book down and I'm not sure why... I enjoyed this read, the two crazy brothers against the world, squandering their inherited weath by letting everything deteriorate. By hoarding - which fascinates me since I am a highly organized Virgo- I am glued to the TV if I happen to catch episodes of How Clean is Your House/Clean Sweep or Hoarders. The crushing loneliness of these two- I kept hoping they would find some light or truly connect with other people. I also was intrigued by Langley's life long newspaper project. And the ending, so desperate!
audryh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Novel based on true account of two wealthy brothers living on 5th Ave across from Central Park, who, through life circumstances, collect, store, hoard all matter of things including bales of paper stacked to the ceiling. Historical events appear as their life moves through the 20th century. Terrific writing. Memorable book.
mstrust on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fictionalized account of Homer and Langley Collyer, two infamous brothers who turned their Fifth Avenue mansion into a junk-filled health hazard. I remember reading a little about the Collyers as a kid; they were in some book my parents had that listed eccentrics.It was an unusual step for Doctorow to bring the brothers into modern times, at least into the 1970's, as I believe they actually died in the 1940's. Maybe he thought they died too young, or maybe he wanted to show them as modern-day hoarders. Though the hoarding problem was Langley's and became more pronounced as the book goes on, the story is focused on the bond between the brothers, their views of the world and Homer's attempts to form relationships.
TheAlternativeOne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Homer & LangleyE. L. DoctorowRandom House2009HardcoverISBN: 1400064945Autographed Copy224 pagesConfessions of a book reviewer:Confession One: I currently own a number of E. L. Doctorow¿s novels but I¿ve never actually read any of his works. That is until Homer & Langley. (I never understood what I was missing but now have something to look forward to.)Confession Two: I had not heard of the Collyer brothers before reading Doctorow¿s loosely based account of these very real yet tragic characters. Being a Midwesterner this particular story had never come to my attention.Back Story:Homer and Langley Collyer were the sons of a successful doctor and as such grew up in the relative comfort of pre-World War I Manhattan. They lived and died in a brownstone mansion in Harlem, which was in a fashionable and trendy neighborhood when it was originally purchased. Both brothers attended Columbia University. Homer received a degree in admiralty law and Langley earned a degree in engineering. As the neighborhood deteriorated and after the abandonment of their father and the eventual death of both parents the brothers inherited the mansion and became hermits and hoarders in their own home. Electing to remove themselves from society the two men began to hoard an eclectic list of items; tons of bound newspapers, books (law and medicine), mechanical contraptions (including a working Model T), scientific oddities (jars of medical samples), and numerous household appliances and knick-knacks. When burglars, who¿d heard they were hoarding cash, gold, and jewelry attempted to break in the men closed off the house and set traps to deter additional would-be thieves and intruders. In the end the massive hoarding (over 134 tons of clutter) and the improvised traps would prove their downfall. Both men were found dead in 1947. Homer succumbed to starvation after the death of his brother and Langley was crushed to death by one of his own traps.Book review:I found E. L. Doctorow¿s style lyrical, provocative, and spellbinding and ¿Homer & Langley¿ is beautifully written and wonderfully illustrative of character, place and time. Told in the first person by Homer Langley the story engrossingly recounts the genesis of the hermetic attitudes adopted by the men and gives us an insight as to how and why their world changed so dramatically over the course of their lives.Doctorow takes minor liberties with the time line in which the Collyer Brothers lived but it in no way deters from the story itself. He succinctly presents world events through the lives of the brothers as they intersect each other. Beginning just after World War I and culminating in the 1980¿s we follow the brothers through their failing health and their troubles with the utility companies, banks, and neighbors. Knowing full well at the beginning of the story that it was going to end in tragedy I was, nonetheless, captivated by the details and Doctorow¿s prose. If Homer Langley had lived to recount his memoir this is much what it might have been. Doctorow handles the Collyer¿s history as it was surely meant to be. Insightful and tragic yet full of the spirit and nature of men trapped by circumstance he gives voice to a family that could not do so on their own.As the narrative glides through the decades Homer and Langley are befriended by a gangster, invite friends and neighbors into their home to dance, turn their home into a safe haven for immigrants, take up with a group of counter-culture hippies, and then plunge into the depths of ill-mental and physical health and paranoia.In the final chapters of the story, after Homer has become completely blind and when he¿s lost most of his hearing, a sympathetic character tells him, ¿You think a word and you can hear its sound. I am telling you what I know ¿ words have music and if you are a musician you will write to hear them.¿ This is, I believe, Doctorow¿s Creative Doctrine and he certainly follows the law to the letter in this story. Lyrical
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having known nothing about the Collyer Brothers until reading this book, I was intrigued. Doctorow's romp across the historic landscape had a Forrest Gump-like feel. A few of the encounters in the middle of the work dragged a bit. Overall, however, Homer & Langley was an enjoyable book that profiled some fascinating characters. It shed light on what it might be like to live as reclusive hoarders, perhaps spurring some of us to cringe at how we once viewed certain people as neighborhood "oddballs."
GailMultop on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I knew little about the Collyer brothers when I began reading this book except to know that they died in their home, buried in trash. What E.L.Doctorow has done is humanized these two so that for a long time you feel that everything that happens is understandable in some way, and a logical result of what happens before. Homer's lyrical voice draws you in, as he is the narrator of the story. Langley is (as the real Langley was not) a casualty of the first world war, physically and emotionally harmed, but still brilliant, and caring of his brother. Various interesting people come into the brothers' lives that open their world for a time, but they disappear, and the brothers are more alone than before. As the novel progresses, I was seduced into thinking that somehow Homer, at least, would survive and find solace and comfort at the end of his life. But instead Doctorow inexorably leads you to the appallingly tragic conclusion. There's no way I'd recommend this book for anyone who gets depressed easily! But the writing is gorgeous, as is all Doctorow's, and to be reminded of the commonality of us all, even "eccentrics", is a gift.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Collyer Brothers were hoarders who died in their Fifth Avenue house surrounded by their many possessions in 1947. The first body was discovered on March 21st, Homer, dead of malnutrition, dehydration and cardiac arrest. Langley wasn't found until April 8, crushed under a newspaper tunnel when one of his booby traps killed him. They were the sons of a prominent family who had withdrawn into their home as the affluent neighborhood of Harlem changed around them. After their deaths, the city removed 130 tons of garbage from their residence.E.L. Doctorow has re-imagined the Collyer brothers in this new novel and has taken them up through the years into modern times, using the memories of Homer to tell the story of a century. Homer, blind and eventually death, and his relationship with his brother, Langley, gassed in World War I and irreparably damaged form the clear strong center of the novel.It would be hard for me to say how much I loved this book. It is so beautiful, so delicate, so intrinsically sad without being overwrought. If Edward Hopper wrote a novel, he might write this one. Doctorow handles the brothers, their relationship, and their house brilliantly. Seen through Homer's eyes there is no illness, no hoarding, just some clutter representing the physical manifestation of his brother's Theory of Replacements. It would have been so easy to turn this into a sensationalized tabloid version of two dirty, crazy old guys, but Doctorow never once steps over the line into caricature in this heartbreaking and beautiful novel about the worlds we leave behind.
bertcloud on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a remarkable meditation on perspective through the voice of the blind brother Homer. What a great character name. Doctorow describes this a reverse travel narrative as history, cultural movements , and philosophies are embodied and move through the home of two eccentrics. I am struck by the psychology of self-discovery and self-delusion by Homer as the time and experiences flow. He is both active and passive to all of this, owing part of this to his blindness but also his dispositions. This is really a very fine book.
fig2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Based on the true-life story of two NY brothers, "Homer and Langley" depicts the more interesting inner life of two compulsive hoarders. Doctorow has done his research, and while his account is fiction, he paints a tender and sweet portrait of two souls struggling to hang on to their dignity and privacy.
BlackSheepDances on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿So now all of that was public knowledge but what was the point except to indicate the decline of a House, the Fall of a reputable family, the shame of all that history in that it had led to us, the without-issue Collyer brothers lurking behind closed doors and coming out only at night.¿ (177)This statement by the narrator, Homer Collyer, serves to summarize this historical fiction novel by E. L. Doctorow. The house is just as an important character as the two brothers, Homer and Langley, and all of them play off each other with detail and significance. As the 20th century passes by, Homer plays hide and seek with the world outside, while inside Langley is hoarding everything from newspapers to pianos to an old car. The way their life unravels from privileged children to hoarders lacking water and electricity is documented step by step. They stop paying their bills, and steadily begin an attempt to shut out the world, although this makes them become infamous in their neighborhood and an anecdote in the newspapers. ¿For what could be more terrible than being turned into a mythic joke? ¿Our every act of opposition and assertion of our self-reliance, every instance of our creativity and resolute expression of our principles was in service of our ruination.¿ (200)The novel is fascinating in both how the brothers relate to each other as well as how differently they interpret world events. At a few points, it seemed a bit too Forrest Gump-ish in the style where everything seems to relate to them, as if they featured in each significant event. Part of that comes from Langley¿s compulsive collection of newspapers; his goal, to write one newspaper that would be applicable to any day. Knowing that the Collyer¿s were real people makes this fictionalized novel more interesting, but I would take it a step further and suggest before reading it to read a short biography of them online. I did it in reverse, looking them up after, and wish I had done so before. Their story is fascinating, and seeing both the true and imagined makes for a dynamic read.
LibraryChick99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book may inspire you to clean out your closets. Homer and Langley Collyer were brothers from an affluent New York family who lived out their years in the family manse on 5th Avenue. This work of historical fiction depicts the downward spiral of a war veteran and his blind brother who compulsively hoard useless items until the outward signs of disrepair begin to alert the community and tragedy ensues.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Collyer brothers of E.L. Doctorow's "Homer & Langley" are loosely based on a pair of real life brothers whose eccentric lifestyle created a sensation when they were found dead in their New York City Fifth Avenue home in 1947. Like their real life counterparts, by the time of their deaths, Doctorow's Homer and Langley Collyer had filled their once extravagant home with so many newspapers, books, magazines, and whatever else Langley decided to drag home (including the Model T that filled one room) that they could barely move around inside the home. Doctorow's fictional brothers, however, do not meet their deaths until well into the 1970s, allowing them to witness the Korean War, the Viet Nam War and the flower children of the sixties.Homer introduces himself in the book's first sentence by saying, "I'm Homer, the blind brother," and from that moment, everything is "seen" and recounted from his point-of-view. Homer is the younger brother, the one left behind with his wealthy parents when older brother Langley leaves for the battlefields of World War I France. Langley would return to the family, his health ruined by the poisonous gas he inhaled during his last fight, only to find both parents dead from the flu epidemic that had so devastated the country.The brothers, one unable to work because of his sightlessness and the other because of the war damage to his lungs, will live together for more than 50 years as recluses in the only home they have ever known. As the years pass and the last of their domestic help leaves them, Homer and Langley venture from home less and less, Homer usually only to sit in the park across the street from the brownstone and Langley to scavenge more of the things he convinces himself might prove useful one day.Langley, seemingly on the edge of serious mental illness, has three goals in life: pay as little to New York's public utility companies as possible; create the ultimate newspaper, one that will tell everything its readers ever need to know in a single, one-time edition; and collect duplicates of every item that catches his fancy. Homer has his music and his brother, and he would find it difficult to survive without either.Homer and Langley may not have gotten out much but life had a way of coming to them over the years in the form of visits from gangsters, prostitutes, bill collectors, dance party customers, sixties hippies, the FBI, and even a few single women, one of whom would, for a time, become Langley's wife.Upon their deaths, many would see the real Homer and Langley Collyer as nothing more than obsessed junk collectors because they left little behind that would prove otherwise. Doctorow's sympathetic characterization of the two men reminds there has to have been much more to them than that. "Homer & Langley," at times, has the unfortunate feel of a Forest Gump satire but readers will find it to be an excellent character study.Rated at: 4.0
cabegley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow's fictional take on New York's famously reclusive hoarders the Collyer brothers, is beautifully written and wonderfully evocative of time and place. The brothers are fully realized, three-dimensional characters. And yet . . . I have a hard time putting in to words what I thought was lacking in this book. We see the world entirely through the perspective of Homer, the blind brother, in such a way that their increasing eccentricity, and in particular Langley's mental disintegration, seems completely normal. Too normal, I think--I never really grasped Langley's madness. The real Collyer brothers lived from the 1880s to 1947, while the lives of Doctorow's characters are shifted to encompass most of the 20th century. While I believe Doctorow did this in order to give an overview of the century, the time shift really bothered me and I had trouble accepting it. Doctorow's lovely writing elevates the book above these flaws for me, but in the end I don't find it on a par with his best work.
Gypsy_Boy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've tried. Many times over the past six months. I'd never read Doctorow before and this was apparently the wrong one to start with. It's a nice story but that's it. No more. I'd just as soon have read a nonfiction story about the facts that this novel was based on. The novelization added nothing for me. The writing wasn't particularly enjoyable, although it flowed easily enough. The story, insofar as I can tell now, sticks largely to the facts and where it diverges, I see no reason for it to do so. The tangents add little. A great disappointment.