What I didn’t realize until the end of Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow, was that it is historical fiction based on the lives of the reclusive Collyer brothers who resided in New York City during the last century. Homer has been blind since his adolescence and Langley suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being gassed in World War I. Doctorow chose to tell the tragic story through the eyes of the blind brother Homer and he has done it masterfully.
After Langley goes off to war, his parents die one after the other having contracted the Spanish flu. With no knowledge of his parents’ death, Langley returns home with PTSD and lungs badly scared from mustard gas. Ever the dutiful brother, he takes on the care of Homer who is blind. Coming from a wealthy family, the brothers inherit their parents home on 5th Avenue and all of their possessions.
Unfortunately, Langley becomes obsessive compulsive and refuses to pay any of the bills connected with the home with the exception of paying their servants. At his brother’s mercy, Homer carves out an existence concentrating on his piano playing and accepting his brother’s eccentric lifestyle out of love of his brother and no other choices. The question raised is which brother is truly blind.
As the brothers grow older and more reclusive, Doctorow introduces people and events going on in the world around them to signify the passage of time.
I read this book straight through; it was excellent. Discovering it was based on truth made it even more moving. Doctorow is one of my favorite authors. If you have never read his work, please take time to do so. I believe you will admire it.