Thursday, December 31, 2009

Homer and Langley: A Novel

Seriously, I am the worst blogger ever. I do not resolve as a New Years Resolution to be more consistent, I resolve to be more consistent because I agreed to do this and I will not let down all of my faithful followers. All 2 of you.

Anyway, Homer and Langley: A Novel. Book 4. One would really think that I would have gotten the fact that this was not an autobiography based upon the title alone, but I missed it. In fact the fact that the author was E.L Doctrow and not one Homer Collyer should have tipped me off much sooner than the last third of the book. Seriously, I can be so utterly clueless at times it amazes me. I came across this in People Magazine. Yes, People Magazine. What can I say, I don’t watch 2 and Half Men? Does that help? I digress.

This novel is historical fiction based upon the lives of two rather infamous brothers who lived in a brownstone on 5th Avenue through 1947. They lived shunning regular society and it’s rules and restrictions and were both found dead surrounded by masses junk and garbage. As it turns out, they were high society hoarders. Or, as this book is written, the Forest Gumps of hoarding.

It starts with Homer stating that he is the blind brother how his blindness came about. It then goes on to introduce Homer’s brother Langley and how interconnected they have always been. Homer is left alone with his well to do parents when Langley goes off to fight in WWI. Their parents die from influenza and Langley returns a different man having suffered lung damage owing to Mustard Gas (I think, I read this like 2 months ago). They live with “the help” in the large brownstone on 5th avenue. Langley slowly becomes more and more disenchanted with society and begins “collecting” things that may be useful at some time. He also devises a plan to write a universal newspaper that will be timeless thus the need for only one edition. He begins collecting all newspapers to study the articles and categorize them based upon their content. While this is happening, time is marching on and the brothers spend time in the roaring 20s in speakeasies with gangsters and their molls. The depression hits and Langley becomes more manic with his collecting and stingier with his money. At one point a Model T is rebuilt in the dining room of the brownstone much to the chagrin on the cook. Speaking of which, the cook’s nephew arrives from New Orleans with his trumpet, or trombone, or something, and introduces Homer, a piano player, to the jazz age. The brothers and the cook’s nephew begin throwing afternoon teas and charging their high class neighbors to come by and dance to the band and have a glass of sherry. The cook’s nephew goes off to fight with the Tuskegee Airmen (I think) in WWII and dies. The 50s pass and the 60s roll by with the brothers inviting random hippies into their completely packed brownstone to crash. They smoke pot they become a tourist stop due to the squalor of their once grand building. Time passes and the junk and rats multiply and eventually Homer grows tired and wonders why his brother hasn’t been around in a few days. Ugh. The ending was total cheese. By this point, I had surmised that this was FICTION (dumbass, seriously) and thought that ending could have been not better per se, but different. But for one sentence – the end – I really did enjoy this book. Though it is VERY Forest Gumpian the author’s reasoning behind some of Langley’s obsessions seems plausible, the book is well written and engaging. The following paragraph makes me want to know Langley personally. Which, to me, means the characters are very well crafted.

Pacing about and swearing his undying hatred for this electromonopoly, as he called it, he proceeded to mail back the letter with his grammatical corrections in a nice neat packet of several years’ of unpaid bills, altogether weighing, he claimed, a good quarter of a pound. Homer, he would later tell me, I felt privileged to pay the postage.

All in all, good book. Though the brothers died in 1947 as I learned in Wikipedia (we all know that means it is true and accurate) and many of the things that happened in the book are in direct conflict with the truth, it was still worth the Kindle download.

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