E. L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley tells the story of two brothers growing up during twentieth century New York City. Doctorow bases his work on the actual Collyer brothers. These brothers were famous because of their odd behavior and their vast collection of obscure, unrelated objects. Doctorow’s novel differs from the actual lives of the brothers in many aspects, such as birth order and length of lifespan.
The story is written from the perspective of Homer Collyer, a man who lost his eyesight at a young age. Homer comes from a wealthy family living in New York City and he has an older brother named Langley who goes to fight in World War I.
When Langley returns, he is completely changed. His new goal is to make a one-time edition of the newspaper, where everything that ever happened and ever will happen is reported in one convenient place. While Langley’s project is underway, the Collyer parents both die and leave everything they had to their two sons.
Throughout the story, Langley takes care of his brother and tries different treatments to cure his brother’s blindness. All treatments end in failure, and Homer continually becomes less comfortable with his handicap. Homer often dreams of finding love with someone who could accept his blindness, and he is consoled only by playing music.
The brothers have multitudes of adventures that range from walks in the park to run-ins with the mob. The two meet a wide range of different personalities while the collection of objects continues to grow, essentially burying the brothers in junk. The Collyers also attract the attention of the public and become international celebrities, but the fame isn’t welcomed by the two. Teenagers harass them and police officers break up social events at the house.
As Homer grows older, he also begins to lose his hearing. Blind and deaf, Homer’s only means of communication with Langley depend on a Braille typewriter. Since Homer can no longer hear, he puts all of his effort into writing the story of him and his brother, which brings us back to beginning of the novel.
In preparation for my senior English class, I had to read four books (Homer & Langley, The Last Lecture, Snow Falling on Cedars, and The Sound of Waves). While I enjoyed all of them, Homer & Langley was by far the novel that fascinated me the most. The tale of the brothers was a potpourri of small stories, goals, and events that formed the life story of Homer Collyer.
I had no idea that the events in this story were based off true events. Imagine my surprise! My history teacher was right; there are no better stories than the ones that actually happened.
Although the writing was slow at some parts, the overall experience reading Homer & Langley was a fantastic one. The worst part of the entire experience was the story isn’t divided into chapters or other smaller parts; it’s just one long piece of writing in a book. Sometimes that can be discouraging and make it easy to lose place when reading over a period of several days.
However, the story shines brighter than the format. The ending to this story amazed me; it couldn’t have been better. I won’t spoil it here, but a few short words caused me to reflect on the entire story, and I guarantee you will too because anyone who has a taste for the different or the unusual should certainly read Homer & Langley.