31 August 2009

Homer & Langley; E.L. Doctorow

Homer and Langley: A Novel Homer and Langley: A Novel by E.L. Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fictionalized biography of a real person - not quite historical fiction, but close. Homer, the blind Collyer brother, types out his memoir of a life first lived in the beauty that was the Upper East Side at the turn of the century, then the increasing darkness as his eyesight fails, his parents die and his brother returns from WWI having been gassed.

How much of Langley's problems were due to the mustard gas is anyone's guess, but the life he and Homer lead is fascinating. Incredibly rich, but also incredibly weird, these two men became part of New York's "Believe it or not" landscape. Doctorow extends their lives (both died in 1947 in real life, but here they manage to survive until the 1980s) and has them meet flower children, react to the moon landing and mourn a former piano student-turned-martyred nun. Moving the mansion from Harlem to Park Avenue gives the story more pathos, which (quite frankly) wasn't needed.

With the exception of stretching another 40 years and the move, Doctorow stays quite close to the facts of their lives (the court battles, their "syndrome", etc.). It's enough to make someone want to learn more about the Collyers!

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