Friday, January 22, 2010

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow

Some years ago the city of New York - and most of the reading public - was astonished by the details surrounding the deaths of two reclusive brothers who lived in a deteriorating mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue. I remember reading the stories and pictures about the mystery of their lives. Despite a fortune and the social milieu into which they were born the two, upon the death of their parents, became gradually ever more reclusive and eccentric.

Over the years, the strange story has been told, retold - often fictionalized - in books, articles and TV. Much has been fictionalized in ‘Homer & Langley’ but the basic facts of the Collyer story remain. The author attempts to reconstruct the blind and dependent Homer’s passivity and acceptance of his brother’s increasingly bizarre behavior by inhabiting his head. He becomes the character, describing in a very matter of fact way, the downward spiral of their lives, the increasing isolation of both. While Homer questions some aspects of his brother's actions, he accepts and often approves of them. Events that could be termed dramatic are recounted in the same calm and passive voice. At some point, the reader too inhabits Homer’s mind as the book spirals into a claustrophobic ending.

H & L held my attention till the end and led me to check the story on Wikipedia. There you will read details of the Collyers’ life that are even more bizarre than those in the book. It’s obvious that many more books & screenplays can work off their true story.

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