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Homer & Langley: A Novel

Homer & Langley - E.L. Doctorow, Arthur Morey Doctorow reimagines the lives of two famous New York eccentrics as a way of touring the twentieth century's ups and downs. The Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, inherit their parents' mansion at the far north end of Fifth Avenue, across from the park, just at the end of the (first) World War. At about the same time, Homer goes blind, and Langley returns from the war shellshocked or something like.It's sometimes a little tiresome to watch Doctorow steering the plot to an encounter with yet another Great Historical Moment: Prohibition, gangsters, talking pictures, war after war after war, the hippies, the blackout, the moon landing. But these are all told obliquely, from Homer's point of view, and the only thing that really grates is his continual pining for—and conquest of!—women a half, a third, a quarter of his age. At least Homer himself retains the capacity to be surprised when it happens.There were a real Homer and Langley Collyer, but except for their death—trapped inside the house by Langley's half-century of collected newspapers, possibly-repairable mechanisms, and projects and rooms abandoned to rot and rats—Doctorow invents freely. That seems to be his usual mode, but this is the first work of his I've read.The audiobook narration is very well done; the narrator has a perfect voice, gravelly and urban without getting into stereotype, and modulates it within his range to give each character a distinct identity. There was one egregious mispronunciation (Homer's vocabulary is at a 19th-century standard), but I forget now what it was. And it was especially nice to listen to the book rather than read it in print, since it is supposed to be written by the blind Homer, sitting at his Braille typewriter inside the maze his brother has made of their house.