Book Review | 'Homer & Langley,' by E. L. Doctorow - The New York TimesThe blind son of a wealthy Manhattan gynaecologist, he had died, at the age of 70, of malnutrition. Dressed only in an old bathrobe, his emaciated corpse sat bolt upright on the floor, surrounded on all sides by teetering ziggurats of junk. One hundred and fifty tons of bric-a-brac would eventually be cleared from the rat-infested mansion, among it 10 clocks, 14 grand pianos, a 7ft tree limb, the jawbone of a horse and stacks of yellowing newspapers dating back 30 years. Only 10ft away from Homer, ensnared in an anti-intruder trap of his own making and hidden beneath some of the objects he had spent his life accumulating, lay his brother and carer, Langley. It would take police two weeks to find him.
THE INTRUSIVE BETRAYER HOMER AND LANGLEY
The reclusive Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, became a tabloid sensation in the first half of the 20th century. Not least in , when a manhunt was called for the capture of Langley after the body of his brother was found in the once-elegant Fifth Avenue Manhattan manse they had inherited. The manhunt was called off three weeks later — but there was no let-up in public interest, as it emerged that a putrefying Langley had been found dead just 10 yards from Homer's body.
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T he Collyer brothers were a pair of congenital pack-rats who amassed tons of rubbish at their New York mansion. They collected banjos and baby carriages, plaster busts and bowling balls, organs both musical and human and the chassis from a Model T Ford that they installed in the basement and ran as a generator. When the house filled up there was no room for the brothers. Langley was eventually killed after blundering beneath an avalanche of his own domestic clutter. Homer, blind, infirm and unable to fend for himself, died from starvation a few days later. EL Doctorow's beguiling 11th novel curates the basic facts of the Collyer history, but it also mounts a major refurbishment. Homer and Langley extends the time-frame and refits the details.
I didn't lose my sight all at once, it was like the movies, a slow fade-out. The Collyers were rich, reclusive bachelors who lived together in New York, compulsively hoarding junk on a gargantuan scale; they were found buried under their own debris in One of America's greatest living writers, Doctorow transforms this lurid tale into a metaphor for the American 20th century. The result, as Homer intimates, is like the movies: a montage of historical events runs behind the increasingly withdrawn brothers like the rear-projected background in a Hollywood film, from the First World War all the way up to the Jonestown massacre of and the rape and murder of American nuns in El Salvador in Homer and Langley don't so much drift in and out of American history as let American history drift past them. The story begins during the Gilded Age, as Homer recalls waving goodbye to his wealthy parents as they embark for annual trips to Europe.