2010 Morning News Tournament of Books Nominee
Based on the true-life story of two New York brothers, Homer and Langley depicts the inner life of two compulsive hoarders. Doctorow has done his research, and paints a tender and sweet portrait of two souls struggling to hang on to their dignity and privacy. This is an amazing story that will completely grip you and not let go! Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
and Billy Bathgate
to The Book of Daniel
, World's Fair
, and The March
, the novels of E. L. Doctorow comprise one of the most substantive achievements of modern American fiction. Now, with Homer and Langley
, this master novelist has once again created an unforgettable work.
Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers — the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley's proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers — wars, political movements, technological advances-and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves.
Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York's fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer.
The master of historical fiction (Vanity Fair) takes listeners from the early part of the 20th century through to the 1980s as seen through the warped lens of the infamous Collyer brothers, whose strange and intriguing story encapsulates much of the era's turmoil, accomplishment, and great change.
About the Author
E. L. Doctorows novels include The March, City of God, The Waterworks, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, Worlds Fair, and Billy Bathgate. His work has been published in thirty-two languages. Among his honors are 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 presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. E. L. Doctorow lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discussion Questions for HOMER & LANGLEY
Submitted by Random House Reader's Circle book clubs
There were several unusual sets of people who came into Homer and Langley's lives. Do you feel that Homer collected people the way that he collected objects? Why do you suppose that is or is not?
2. What do you think of Langley' s Theory of Replacements? Given today's 24-hour news environment in which historical context is rarely addressed, does Langley's theory and perspective have some merit?
3. Langley is obsessive in his quest to create one universal newspaper of "seminal events". What categories were used by Langley so that the newspaper would be "eternally current, dateless"? What categories would you add or change? Why?
4. What effect did the war have on Langley — did he come back mentally damaged along with his medical problems? How would the brothers' lives have been different if there had been no war?
5. Discuss the importance of Jacqueline in the story. Would the story have been as effective without this "muse"? Do you think she really existed?
6. On page 76 Homer talks about how things were for him when he and Langley returned to the house after their night in jail. He said, "this time marked the beginning of our abandonment of the outer world." He also said that for the first time he felt that his sightlessness was a physical deformity. What was it about the night in jail, the end of their community dances, and/or their return home that caused such a drastic shift in their lives?
7. One of the novel's themes is isolation/a feeling of being separate from the world. Some characters do this by choice, others not. Discuss how Homer, Langley, and their various houseguests feel isolated from the world around them.
8. In what ways is the house a character as well as the setting? How does the house's condition reflect the brothers' physical and mental conditions?
9. The brothers' paranoia became ever-increasing, causing them to lay booby traps and close themselves in with physical as well as emotional shutters. Homer's last thoughts were, I wish I could go crazy so I might not know how badly off I am. Could Homer and Langley have been "saved" from themselves?
10. The book is told from Homer's point of view. Why do you think the author chose Homer to tell the story of the brothers? How did Homer's disability affect his telling of the story? How would the story be different if Langley had been the voice?