Two years ago, I somehow stumbled on this Wikipedia article about the Collyer brothers, a famously fascinating pair of clever, wealthy stuff-hoarders. The story nearly moved me to tears. Curious about this mysterious family, I read Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow.
Personally, I found the Doctorow novel contrived and unbelievable— to be fair, the Collyers’ decline can’t be easy to explain or defend. On the other hand, did the author HAVE to lengthen the brothers’ lives an extra twenty years or so? Why did he do it? PLEASE tell me it wasn’t solely so he could revisit free love with nubile hippie chicks and Langley’s long hair could come back into style. Even in a highly fictionalized biography, keeping characters who really died in 1947 alive to see moon landings seems… extremely odd. Also, why did Doctorow make Homer the pianist instead of Langley? So he could sprinkle the book with evocative-unless-you-know-what-they-mean musical terms? To give blind Homer another way to relate to the world? So it didn’t look like all the talents went to Langley?
The novel is surely better than I remember… but as you can tell, I much preferred Wikipedia’s tale. Sometimes the plain facts are tragedy enough.