In a recent interview given to the NYT, Doctorow explains his latest novel, Homer & Langley, came about from a childhood memory of the Collyer brothers and their bizarre status in New York City’s Harlem area. For those unfamiliar with the tale of the Collyer brothers, they lived the life of pack rats and solitude from about 1933 until their demise in 1947. In an article written by the New York Press, in 1933 Homer suffered a stroke and was paralyzed and blind. Langley, being his only living relative then began taking full charge of his brother’s care. When asked why the men remained all bottled up in this booby trapped four story home, Langley’s only reply was they wanted to be left alone.

In Doctorow’s novel, he takes the reader into the home of the Collyer brothers along with the inside of Homer’s mind. The story is told by Homer and as a young man Homer begins to lose his sight. As Langly goes off to war, Homer is left home to suffer the task of burying both his mother and father. All of this his does without his sight. When Langly comes back from the war, Homer can feel that along with his brother’s body, his brother’s mind has sustained serious damage from the war.

The book guesses the reasoning behind the how and why  the men began to withdraw from society and Doctorow even attempts to give explanations for Langley’s mysterious habits of collecting.

E.L. Doctorow is known for his ability to take pieces of New York history and weave them into a wonderful and complex story. In Homer & Langley, Doctorow does not disappoint his fans with his look into the mind and habits of the Collyer brothers. With this novel, a certain kind of empathy is given to the mysterious brothers that have not been shown to the Collyers since the early 30’s.

This book takes place in a very small section of New York, but one never feels slighted. The book is filled with wonderfully developed characters and Doctorow even allows Homer and Langley the luxury of living passed their true death dates.

Homer & Langley is a marvelous character study of a pair of brothers who have mystified New York for years. In the same interview given to the New York Times, Doctorow states his first line of the book is the most powerful. However, I disagree. I believe the last paragraph of the book will knock anyone off his or her chair.

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