Wednesday, December 16, 2009

E. L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley -- Twisting the Facts in Fiction

This is the author's newest book, 200 pages about the Collyer brothers, New York City recluses who filled their Manhattan house to the brim with junk, from newspapers to an entire automobile. The brothers, long known locally for their eccentric behavior, gained national notoriety after Homer's body was found but Langley was missing. His body was later found close to his brother but buried under tons of rubbish from their piles of hoarded goods.

Doctorow's novel tells their story from Homer's point of view, emphasizing his detachment from world events, his blindness and later deafness, his reliance on his brother. The style is poetic, the story rather romantic. Too bad it isn't true.

In reality it was Langley who played the piano, not Homer. Homer became blind in later life, not at 18. Many of the events and details were added by Doctorow and weren't part of their lives.

I object to the fact that Doctorow uses the skeleton of the Collyer brothers' history, without indicating anywhere in the book that he has manipulated facts (I remember reading that he has said he did little research, relying on his own childhood memories of the event as learned from newspapers at the time). By using the names and locations as he had, I believe that he has done an injustice to the Collyers (strange though they might have been).

The story would have stood on its own if it just told the story of two brothers. By giving the reader a portrait of specific individuals, without revealing which elements are not true, Doctorow has cheated us. And because of his reputation, too many book reviewers, including writers in major publications, have allowed him to get by with it.

I'm in favor of the separation of fact and fiction.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home