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E. L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley 
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Location: The Quiet Earth
Post E. L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley
When I first saw the strip ad for this book, I was instantly intrigued - I recognized the names and I have always been fascinated by the story of the Collyer brothers. My exclamations were heard on high (or across the breakfast table, same thing) and the book magically ordered itself from Amazon.

Doctorow is an always-engaging writer. I was thus hooked from the first line, "I'm Homer, the blind brother." I even knew where he was going to end the story, given that beginning. What I didn't know was what he was going to do in between.

I have since read several reviews, often by Distinguished Names, who praise ELD for his allegorical portrait of the world as portrayed by the strange, reclusive lives of these brothers in their NYC brownstone. It's true that he has done his homework and knows the full list of strange objects that were found amid the 100 tons of junk when the brownstone was finally cleaned out, and he goes into detail explaining how each strange item came to be there.


I was about halfway through the book, with no hint of what was to come, when the book giver, reading a review, said, "How's the time changing work in that story?" or something like that. I had no idea what this meant until (literally) the next page... in which Doctorow began referencing the brothers watching the moon landing.

As the Collyer brothers died in 1947, that was odd. It turns out that Doctorow simply extends their time scale to the 1980s to allow their peculiar lifestyle and time capsule to encompass hippies in the 1960s and a brief mention of the lunar landing a bit later.

Most reviewers gently dismiss this distortion and praise ELD for his sweeping and gentle view of the extended century. I can't figure out ANY reason for him not to have stuck to the proper timeline - other than a reference here and there and Homer getting laid by a hippie girl in 1967, it really doesn't matter what year it is outside and his extension of the time scale does nothing to explain or fill out the strange, strange story at the core. He also reverses the ages of the brothers, making Homer the younger, for no apparent reason.

There are stories where a writer takes historical facts and bends them to his or her will, wreaking interesting magic in the process. Unfortunately, this is not one of those books. The story of the brothers is well told, as far as it goes, but the time extension and imagined events of the added forty years or so are merely irritating. I can see no reason why ELD couldn't have written the same book, with the same passage and same conclusions, while remaining within the factual lifespan of the brothers.

But he does end it, magnificently, right where and as I thought he would.

"Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders." - Luther
In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.

Tue Sep 15, 2009 7:03 am
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Joined: Thu Apr 17, 2008 9:55 am
Posts: 80
Location: DFW, Texas
Post Re: E. L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley
I just finished reading this book last night and highly recomend it.

I had never heard of the Collyer brothers until I heard a review of this book on NPR. I am amazed and appalled that anyone ever lives like this.

Homer and Langley come across as more likable than they probably were in reality.

I don't see the point of extending the timeline untill the 80s, but that is really not that big
a deal to me. The ending is magnificent and ends just as it should.

Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:27 pm
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