Those of you who have seen my NYU office or (even worse) my home office or downstairs storage space know why I might have a morbid fascination with the subject of our colleague E. L. Doctorow‘s new novel, Homer & Langley. Yup, I’m a bit of a … collector.
For those of you who don’t remember the story, Homer and Langley were two rich and eccentric brothers who were discovered dead in their New York brownstone amidst heaps and heaps — indeed, tons and tons — of trash in 1947. Homer, who at the end of his life was blind and paralyzed, apparently starved to death, waiting for his brother Langley to bring him food. Langley was the subject of a highly publicized manhunt, until after a little more than two weeks, his body was discovered only a few feet from his brother’s: apparently, Langley had been caught by one of his own booby trips and buried under a pile of rubble.
I can’t wait to find a moment to read the novel, in which Doctorow apparently brings his signature mix of historical fact and imaginative fiction, adding twenty years to the brothers’ lives and transforming them into an emblem of the ills and obsessions of mid-twentieth-century America.
You can read an excerpt of Homer & Langley on newsweek.com. And if that whets your appetite, you can listen to Doctorow discuss the novel with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen at the Union Square Barnes and Noble next Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.
Meanwhile, here’s a picture from the Newsweek article that shows you what the Collyers’ brownstone looked like when they were discovered.