Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Collyer Bros.

Inside the Collyer brownstone.

I’ve just finished E.L. Doctorow’s new short novel Homer & Langley, an interpretation of the Collyer brothers story. These eccentric Manhattan fellows were dug out of the once-grand family brownstone on Fifth Avenue and 128th Street in 1947 after years of isolation and hoarding. Tons upon tons of junk were pulled out of the house, including a whole Model T, and it took days to find Langley’s corpse after the initial discovery of Homer’s. Langley had died first, caught up in his own booby traps, while the blind and deaf Homer starved to death without his brother to care for him. It’s a sobering story for all of us hoarders.

Doctorow’s a great writer, but I found this book a little too pat in its efforts to include so many of the sorrows of the century. He changes the dates of the historical story so that hippies can be brought in; and is the Simone de Beauvoir-esque character, Homer’s muse, necessary? Best thing about it was Langley’s idea of a Platonic newspaper.

In my neighborhood, we have two men who look like twins; they wear matching bug-eyed goggles, giving them an alien visitor look, and every time I see them I think of the Collyers. One of these days, I must follow them home.


knithound brooklyn said...

I often comment to my husband that he is a Colyer in training. Maybe I should give him the book as a cautionary tale.

Matthew said...

In interviews, Doctorow says his mother similarly warned him.