The Paper Trail
Homer & Langley
By E.L. Doctorow
224 pages; Random House
A great and gathering darkness, a mood of chivalrous sorrow, pervades the household in which the famously reclusive Collyer brothers—the most notorious pack rats in American history—live out their lonely lives, in E.L. Doctorow's latest novel, Homer & Langley . Homer, blinded in his late teens, is the narrator, looking back on a privileged childhood and an adulthood ranging from the Great War through the civil rights era, and forward to an increasingly constricted future in the elegant Fifth Avenue mansion where the brothers still live. As the existentially anguished, desperately self-reliant Langley piles up mountains of newspapers—grist for his never-to-be-completed, "eternally current dateless newspaper"—and stuffs the house to bursting with everything from piano innards and electric fans to piles of clothing and a fully assembled Model T Ford, Homer genteelly reaches out to the few human beings who penetrate his deep isolation. As he has done in so many novels, from Ragtime and Billy Bathgate to The March, Doctorow paints on a sweeping historical canvas, imagining the Collyer brothers as witness to the aspirations and transgressions of 20th-century America; yet this book's most powerfully moving moments are the quiet ones, when the brothers relish a breath of cool morning air, and each other's tragically exclusive company.
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