Read by Arthur Morey*
Published September 2009 by Random House Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale
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...
I don't recall if I first heard of the Collyer brothers when this book came out or if I knew about them first which made this book appeal. Well, that and the fact that the book is written by Doctorow, the man who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Ragtime. Doctorow is known for dropping his fictional characters into historical events among historical figures. Here he's turned the tables a bit. In Homer and Langley, Homer and Langley Collyer are the historical figures.
|Langley Collyer, top center.|
In Doctorow's hands, the brothers Collyer are given a full life before their reclusive years and another 30 years of life, allowing the events of the world to come to their door. Doctorow has the brothers befriend a band of hippies and allow them to stay in the house for weeks; he gives them an early interaction with a mobster who later becomes head of one of the five families and uses their home as a refuge after an attempt has been made on his life; and Doctorow has Homer befriend in a park a journalist to whom he will later write the story of his and Langley's lives.
The Collyer brothers became, even in their lifetimes, objects of ridicule, not just for the way they lived but also for the way they died. Doctorow makes them human. These men did not just one day decide that they wanted to live the way they ended up living. It's not that they couldn't have afforded to live well; they had plenty of money. But life was, for Homer and Langley, as it is for all of us, an accumulation of experiences. Langley, as Doctorow sees him, was a genius who was fiercely protective of his brother; Homer a man who didn't always understand or agree with his brother's thinking but who always defended it.
As I've been journeying through the 40 Bags In 40 Days, it's become easier and easier for me to understand how someone might end up living as the Collyer brothers did. You begin keeping things just in case you find a use for them, you keep things to use read later, you just don't get around to putting things right. Before long, it becomes so overwhelming it becomes impossible to tackle. Add on to that, the mental illness that so many, like Langley Collyer, suffer and it becomes a recipe for the kind of disaster that happened to the Collyer brothers.
|E. L. Doctorow|
*Imagine my surprise to pop the first disc of this book in and discover that it was also being read by Arthur Morey, who also read the last book I had listened to. I believe I enjoyed his reading even more in this book.