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Homer and Langley
A Novel

by E.L. Doctorow


The Collyer brothers were found by a policeman who broke into their Harlem home after neighbors smelled a stench coming from it. They were surrounded by more than 100 tons of newspapers, 14 pianos, and an intact Model T.

They were reclusive and eccentric. They came from a well-to-do family but they locked their doors and absented themselves from life around them. World War I and the Spanish Flu killed their parents. Then Langley returned from World War I affected by mustard glass; finding Homer alone and going blind. He is powerful, and brilliantly starts science projects but eventually abandons them. Homer is sweet and gentle. What caused them to be the reclusive hermits of Fifth Avenue? Doctorow takes a trip down memory lane with deep insight in an attempt to recreate their lives with sensitivity and understanding. He shows us World War I, the Roaring 20s, Prohibition, World War II, Korea, Vietnam as reflected in the eyes of the Collyer brothers.

His details are not always correct. In real life, the brothers lived on the Upper West Side of New York not Fifth Avenue. Homer not Langley was found under the mountains of trash. But this is a novel not a biography, so we can overlook that. This is a well written book with many details about the periods in which the brothers lived.

The Book

Random House
September 2009
1400064945 / 9781400064946
Adult / General Fiction
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NOTE: Author E.L. Doctorow has won a National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN / Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal

The Reviewer

Barbara Buhrer
Reviewed 2010
© 2010