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Homer & Langley by E. L. Doctorow

Homer & Langley

by E. L. Doctorow

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1,3901115,468 (3.74)134
  1. 20
    Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch (GCPLreader)
    GCPLreader: another strong novel of fraternal love
  2. 00
    My Brother's Keeper by Marcia Davenport (sloreck)
    sloreck: Different take on same true story

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Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
I have a bias in favor of anything written by Doctorow. He brings intriguing historical events powerfully to life in his fiction. And he has done that in Homer & Langley.

Before I launch into specific praise of this book, however, I need to give a couple of caveats. About 1/3 to 1/2 way through, I had to work hard to resist hearing "Run, Forest, Run" in my brain. Like the movie Forest Gump, this book spans the USA 20th century plus and highlights important events as well as changes, both technological and cultural, through their interactions with the lives of the characters.

My second caveat is about the two main characters, or perhaps more precisely about one of them. Langley is the war-damaged brother who returns home a bit crazy, and then sinks further & further into his own special brand of eccentricity. And that eccentricity includes hoarding. And hoarding, when it appears in fiction, always distracts me and makes me feel that I should stop reading and immediately go clean out the decades of accumulations in my own closets and shelves. But perhaps that is a personal problem that might not affect other readers in the same way.

But this is an elegant story. I loved Homer, and by extension his brother Langley. Homer has an early-20th century manner of speaking that he never loses, perhaps in part because he lost his sight as a teenager. The story of America is told through the life and narration of Homer and his perceptions, as experienced from the Fifth Avenue home he shares throughout his life with his brother. I won't spoil the ending, but a box of tissues might be in order.

( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
If Homer and Langley were still alive they would be the subject of reality TV shows like Hoarders. They were certainly a pair of odd ducks.

Homer and Langley Collyer were eccentrics who lived in a brownstone on 5th Avenue across the street from Central Park. After going blind Homer kept to the house and Langley stayed to look after him. Eventually Homer stopped going out and Langley only went out late at night. Both men died in the house surrounded by tons of garbage. Doctorow has based his book loosely on these facts and written it as if Homer was speaking. Each slide away from "normalcy" is explained by Homer as justified in the circumstances but it is obvious that both men were delusional at best and psychotic at worst. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jun 14, 2015 |
HOMER & LANGLEY, by E.L. Doctorow.
Haven't read Doctorow since RAGTIME, and don't remember much about that, as it was years ago. I would classify this book as more of an "entertainment," than really serious fiction. A fictionalized version of two very real people, the Collyer brothers, Doctorow chooses to extend their lives (they were found dead in their house in 1947) by fifty-plus years, creating a kind of fantasy, as well as a commentary on the craziness and crassness of the twentieth century. He links the brothers up with some major events as well as all the wars and upheavals, a la FOREST GUMP. Sorry, Mr. Doctorow, but I liked Groom's book a lot more. I cared about Forest. Gump's story was funnier and more moving. These brothers? Not so much. Like I said, 'entertaining,' but in the end? Meh. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 3, 2015 |
brothers, New York City, blindness, historical fiction, hoarding ( )
  rowen1 | Dec 22, 2014 |
I think a good deal of the reason I got so behind in reviewing my books is my reluctance to write about this one. There was a fair amount of pressure to do so -- I got this book free as a part of a publicity giveaway in advance of publication, and they even followed up with a postcard to remind me to post a review (before I'd even read the book.) So, dutifully I moved the book to the top of my to-read pile, finished it fairly quickly, then... stalled.

I simply have no strong opinions on this book. I enjoyed it enough to read quickly, yet was almost always conscious that if this book hadn't been free, I never would have read it. Based on real life peole (which I actually didn't realize while reading it), it tells the stories of two brothers who become increasingly cut off from the world, Homer by blindness and Langley by his bitterness caused by his wartime experience. They hole up in their massive house (left to them by their parents) in New York City, interacting with outsiders only rarely (but usually very memorably), and slowly boxing themselves in with Langley's growing compulsion to collect and hoard.

Now, I have some hoarding compulsions myself, but I was never able to really connect with Langley. And while the novel said some interesting things about the value of community, they were said rather obliquely, and were never in focus. So, to the reader with no previous exposure to the Collyer brothers legend, what was the point? ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
This is Forrest Gump by way of Ecclesiastes, a sustained lament over the futility of human endeavor.
added by Shortride | editEsquire, Benjamin Alsup (Sep 30, 2009)
The achievement of Doctorow’s masterly, compassionate double portrait is that it succeeds for 200 pages in suspending the snigger, elevating the Collyers beyond caricature and turning them into creatures of their times instead of figures of fun.
I’m not sure “Homer & Langley” will stand as one of Doctorow’s best, but the story of two brothers united by their imaginations and disabilities ends up being a poignant one – rats, cockroaches, and all – and the ending has striking power.
Doctorow’s biggest weakness as a storyteller is his urge to act as a docent at the New York Historical Society. The inner life he gives to Homer is desultory – apart from a few brief love affairs, Homer’s days are marked by boredom and decline. To be additionally saddled with a grandfatherly tendency to long-windedness is a trait the novel can’t recover from.
A slight, unsatisfying, Poe-like story that turns out to be a study in morbid psychology.
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To Kate Medina
First words
I am Homer, the blind brother.
Jsem Homer, ten slepý bratr.
...umírají neviňátka, nikoli ti, kdo se už narodili silní, protože bez iluzí. (s. 18)
... byl dost mladý, aby věřil, že svět k němu bude fér, jen když on bude tvrdě pracovat, ze všech sil se snažit a dávat do hudby celé srdce. (s. 49)
Jedna z JoJových mizerně zpívaných písní mě zaujala. Začínala "Dobrejtro, lžičko". Debatovali sme o tom s Langleym. On si myslel, že vypovídá o osamělosti vypravěče, který ironicky oslovuje svůj příbor. Nesouhlasil jsem. Já jsem tvrdil, že mluvčí hovoří na svou pravděpodobně drobnou milenku, která se s ním ráno probouzí, a že lžička je prostě něžnůstka. (s. 117)
Jediná napínavá věc pro mě byla, kolik Lissiných blábolů budu muset vyslechnout cestou k nevyhnutelnému. (s. 118)
Dnes letí elektrifikovaní hudebníci, kteří si dávají existencialistická jména a přitahují rozsáhlé publikum lidí o něco mladších než oni, kteří by sami také moc rádi škubali pánví a ječeli a častovali tou uši rvoucí hudbou stadiony plné idiotů. (s. 122)
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Book description
Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers–the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers–wars, political movements, technological advances–and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves.

Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York’s fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer.

[retrieved May 23, 2013 from Amazon.com]
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A free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York's fabled Collyer brothers depicts Homer and Langley as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, facing odyssean perils as they struggle to survive the wars, political movements, and technological advances of the last century.… (more)

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