Sunday, October 10, 2010

Homer & Langley by E L Doctorow ****

Homer & Langley by E L Doctorow is ostensibly the story of two brothers born around the beginning of the twentieth century, following them through WWI, the roaring 20s, the depression, WWII, the hippies of the 60s, and beyond. If this is what you expected, you would not be disappointed, for Doctorow packs the book with vignettes from all these periods with observations on technology, politics, and urban culture. But Homer & Langley is not historical fiction.

The two brothers, independently wealthy, live in a large home on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park. But this is not a story of wealth and advantage. The brothers are recluses and protesters, taking on the water company, Con Edison, and the police. They are more comfortable with hippies than their neighbors. But this is not a story of counter-culture.

Homer is blind and Langley is OCD. This is a story of two brothers and their long decline into disability and death. If there is some universal truth here, it is not presented in bright, flashing banners like some prurient web site. The truth is more traditional, before pop-up and animated GIFs: an intricate story of people, simultaneously unique and universal.

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