Do you collect anything? Everything?
A cautionary tale is the history of the Collyers- two American brothers who became famous in mid-20th-century because of their compulsive hoarding. Sons of a doctor whose ancestors were some of the first settlers in America, Homer and Langley Collyer were snobs, whose Manhattan brownstone was filthy and full of rubbish. Cited as examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the Collyers have had many mentions through the years in books, movies and on television. Both were found dead in their Harlem brownstone surrounded by over 100 tons of rubbish. More details of the strange lives of the Collyers.
Now, E.L. Doctorow has written a novel about the obsessions and the filial love of the Collyers. In Homer & Langley, Doctorow builds from the facts…bizarre enough to strain credulity… the rubbish included 14 pianos and an intact Model T…to paint one of the darker stories of American lore. Written in the voices of the brothers, the novel provides back story and seems normal enough until the world outside the mansion intrudes. Homer who is blind relies on the furtive Langley for food and care. Langley goes out only at night and though the brothers have money, food often is found in garbage cans or from restaurant leftovers. Doctorow is adept at basing his novels on history; in Homer & Langley the story seems almost mythical.
E.L. Doctorow, recipient of the Westport Library Award in 2000, has also been awarded the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Humanities Medal.
One of my favorite Doctorow books is Waterworks which I read many years ago. Its scenes of 19th century New York are still vivid in my mind. There are many Doctorow novels to choose from and if the strange Collyers pique your interest, place a hold on the newest book.
Firemen & rescue personnel refer to a “Collyer situation” as a house so full of junk it’s dangerous to get inside or back out. The site of the original “Collyer situation” is now a park named for the two brothers. (Fifth Avenue & 128th Street)