Publication Date: 2009
Challenges: Support Your Local Library Challenge #47
This is a fictional story based on real people. The Collyer Brothers were somewhat infamous recluses and compulsive hoarders who lived in New York. By the time they died in the mid 1940’s their home was filled with junk.
Doctorow used this true story as a basis for Homer & Langley. These were the real names of the Collyers, and he does use a lot of the real story of them, but at the same time he also takes the story far from truth (by about 30 years to start with). If you want to learn more about the real Collyer Brothers here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry about them.
The story is told by Homer, the brother who lost his sight at a fairly young age. Homer and Langley were raised by wealthy parents and despite Homer’s vision problems they had a pretty good and seemingly normal life. As Homer tells his story, the problems began when Langley went to fight in World War I. Within a short time, their parents died in the Spanish Flu epidemic, and then Langley returned from Europe having been exposed to mustard gas. Whether Langley’s increasingly odd behavior started before or after his wartime experience is not clear, but what is clear once he and Homer are living on their own in the family home is that Langley is not exactly on the same wavelength as most of normal society.
Nevertheless the brothers live in and gradually fill their house with newspapers for a grand project of Langley’ and pretty much all sorts of things that may become useful one day.
Since Doctorow takes the story on into at least the mid 1970’s it’s clearly not a biography of the real Collyers. It is an interesting story of brothers dependent on each other and interested in while at the same time excusing themselves from society. The obsessive hoarding and other aspects of probable mental illness seen through the blind eyes of Homer as he tells the story is interesting, but not compelling.
While I thought the book was good, I was actually glad it was fairly short at 208 pages..