August 28, 2009

Review: Homer & Langley

Homer & Langley
by E.L. Doctorow

In the words of Wikipedia:
"Homer and Langley Collyer were two American brothers who became famous because of their snobbish nature, filth in their homes, and compulsive hoarding." Today we know it as disposophobia or 'Collyer brothers syndrome,' which is a fear of throwing anything away. This novel is a fictionalized story of what we know about the Collyer brothers.

The story is chronicled from Homer's point of view as he is writing his memoirs to a Jacqueline. It starts when Homer is a teenager, when he goes blind over the span of a month. Homer is filled with the hope and optimism of youth. He doesn't feel resentful about losing his sight; he sees it as a challenge and an adventure. But with time and maturity comes acceptance of the harsher realities of life. Vitality turns to discontent, then to depression as he feels more and more isolated and useless.

I liked everything about this book. The two brothers were so real they could easily be sitting right here in my livingroom. While the above makes it sound depressing it really had a lot of very funny scenes in it, like when the men opened a higher class speak-easy in their home to make some extra money, or when they met a gangster who later became the head of the most feared mafia in New York. While the real Collyer brothers died in 1947, these fictional brothers live from the 1920s until the 70s or 80s. Historical events take place that affect the two men and carry the story in the same way that they do in Forest Gump.

The most memorable part of the book for me was Homer's very last entry but I dare not say anything about it for fear of affecting your experience of it. Homer & Langley is so well written that I now will be seeking out Doctorow's other works for which he has won many awards and honors, including the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a nomination for the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement. How have I not heard of him before now?

So I think you should all run out and buy this book and enjoy as I did; then you should look up the Collyer brothers on Wikipedia to learn all about the real brothers and the 100 tons worth of junk that was hauled out of their home. But read the book first. It is so well worth it.

One Word Review:


bermudaonion said...

I always figured Doctorow would be over my head. It sounds like it's much more readable than I imagined.

Jenny said...

I think this book would hit a little too close to home. My great-uncle can't throw things away like this - the fire department recently made him get rid of the piles and piles of crap in his house, and he just about had a breakdown. But I would like to try some Doctorow, since this sounds so readable and good.

Zibilee said...

This sounds like a really interesting story. I am very curious about their hoarding behavior, and think it would make the book a very ensnaring read. Great review on this one, I will have to look it up!