Homer and Langley Collyer were brothers that were infamous for being reclusive and being hoarders. They lived in New York City in the decades after WWI. E.L. Doctorow’s new novel picks up the story and gives it new life as a sort of memoir written by Homer Collyer. Homer and Langley: A Novel (2009) is well-written and hard to put down, both because of the story and the writing.
In the novel the Collyer brothers were born to privilege and the 'manse' in which they are raised and subsequently live their lives is on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park. Homer is the younger and an accomplished pianist; however as a young man he loses his eyesight and gradually becomes blind. Langley goes to war, WWI, and comes back home shortly after the parents are struck down by the influenza epidemic in 1912. Langley has respiratory damage from being gassed in the trenches, but is also more or less emotionally damaged. The two men resume their lives in society throughout the 1920’s but beginning with the Depression start to become reclusive.
Unlike most stories about the true-life brothers, Doctorow concentrates on the brother’s relationship with each other and their slow withdrawal from the world as opposed to the hoarding. The emotional troubles of Langley are told in the manner that a loving brother would see them; the physical limitations of Homer are minimized until the end but are told more in respect to how Langley cares for Homer and protects him.
Interesting events in history are told from the point of view of the brothers and how the events affect them and make them want to further withdraw from the world. This is a good read because the insight of what the brothers may have really been like, instead of what the media sensationalists portrayed them as, it is fascinating and touching. I wanted to reach out to Homer and just pull him out of that house! But, make no mistake, Homer is no whiner!
Google "Homer and Langley Collyer" and you will find information and great pictures of these brothers that were both reclusive and eccentric.