Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Homer and Langley

My teenage daughter keeps me up to date on the weirdness of cable TV's offerings, and one of the weirdest offerings has to be Hoarders, based on the bizarre lives of compulsive pack rats. But before reality TV took hoarding mainstream, America had the Collyers, reclusive brothers who filled their Fifth Avenue brownstone with newspapers, books, old machines, musical instruments, umbrellas, boxes, bales, baby buggies, a Model T Ford--you name it, they likely had it. When they died, rescuers trying to get to them ultimately removed 130 tons of, well, stuff from their building.

E. L. Doctorow takes the unknowable life of the Collyers and goes to town. He tells their imagined story from the viewpoint of Homer, who is musical, intuitive and blind, and therefore subject to the random madness of his brother, Langley. Doctorow takes plenty of liberties to make his story work. In actuality, the brothers died in 1947, but Doctorow realigns their timeline by several decades, allowing the progress of time, in the form of a constant stream of visitors, to intrude on the lives of the brothers. For recluses they have a pretty full dance card, and each era--from the jazz age through the Woodstock Generation, impacts on them despite their barricades of junk. Read this book for its setting, in Manhattan’s poshest landfill--it's mesmerizing.


Find it at the library!

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