My Brother’s Keeper

Homer & Langley

If I had to make a new year’s resolution, it would be to read more or better yet, to make time to read and write more. I’ve actually been wanting to devote myself to reading more for some years now and I took to it in November after the Hurricane Sandy fiasco where a great portion of my library had been destroyed. Knowing that I love books, my boss gifted me with a Strand gift card. Probably the same day that I received my gift card, I purchased Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow.

Over the summer, I read an article in The New York Times about organizing the apps on smartphones, and in this article it mentioned the Collyer Brothers. Homer and Langley Collyer were brothers who lived in Manhattan during and after WWII and were notable mostly for hoarding. I Googled them, read some of the information I found and discovered that a book had been written based on their story. I was interested and wanted to learn more.

Homer, the blind and younger of the brothers, performs as the narrator of this story which weaves through the lives of both Homer and Langley Collyer and the people who contribute to their life story. There are a host of characters the Collyer brothers encounter, and I imagined what many of them looked like via Homer’s vivid descriptions of their faces and body structures by way of his fingers. These characters proved essential to Homer’s story because they contributed mostly to his personal development and made apparent his yearning for love.

Homer details, as best he can, the familial history and development of he and his brother Langley, and even attempts to explain to the reader where the hoarding issue is birthed. It begins as a philosophical idea Langley establishes that history repeats itself and therefore never changes in content but by the characters. Langley decides that he will develop a timeless newspaper that can be read forever and would infinitely remain relevant to any date and time. With this, Langley begins to collect the daily newspaper everyday and stores them throughout the house. He also begins to collect other items which will someday prove to be useful – the hoarders’ credo.

What I found most amusing about this story were Homer’s unyielding efforts at rationalizing his brother’s hoarding behavior. I’m slightly fascinated by hoarders because I cannot perceive the idea of collecting discarded materials with the hopes of it being useful one day. I also enjoyed the relationship between these brothers. Langley was responsible for Homer and it never appears that he becomes angry or frustrated with his brother’s handicap. In fact, Langley continuously works to help Homer function as normal as possible in spite of his disability. Langley even develops a ritual of researching and applying methods that offer to restore his brother’s sight. It’s pretty endearing.

E. L. Doctorow is an NYT bestseller and has received numerous awards for his works. This is my first time reading Doctorow’s fiction and I look forward to reading more.