I have been remiss in not commenting on E.L. Doctorow's latest novel, Homer and Langley, perhaps because it appeared around Labor Day, i.e., before the time when the usual round of heavy-hitting Fall novels are published; also perhaps because we have come to take Doctorow for granted, something like a beautiful landscape or seascape that we drive past so often that we do not actually see it.
For as long as I can remember he has been writing wonderful books, mostly novels set in (or through) a historical period, which vividly depict stories often known to us from purely historical sources but which acquire new life and meaning through the magic of his art, specifically in the interweaving of history and fiction.
He has done that again in this new book, focusing this time on the Collyer brothers, a pair of eccentric New Yorkers from a very wealthy family who achieved some notoriety for living (and then dying) in what had become an extremely run-down mansion in Manhattan, surrounded -- indeed enveloped -- by a sea of papers and memorabilia. One of the brothers, blind since late adolescence, is the narrator, telling his and his brother's story and also the story of much of the Twentieth Century as they become more and more cut-off and reclusive.
Doctorow's sure hand is evident on every page as is his abundant sympathy for these characters daring to say "no" to the encroachments of modern life.
-- Jeremy Nussbaum