I had never heard of the Collyer brothers when I started reading E.L. Doctorow’s book. I chose to read only because I’ve read Ragtime a couple times and thought it was an amazing interweaving of history and fiction.
It starts slowly and I felt like I was stumbling along with Homer in the dark. I had no idea where his story was going. Until I looked it up online. Even though I knew how it would all end, there was something beautifully haunting seeing it through Homer’s eyes. I have yet to find a writer who does it as well as Doctorow. We may never know what really happened or what drove these two men to seek solace inside their house, barricading themselves against the world with all their junk, only to die alone. Since the brothers rarely ventured out, Doctorow builds the story by bringing history though the house. He did change a lot of details, which might not be necessary considering these men were stranger than fiction and probably didn’t need much embellishment, but that’s the beauty of fiction. You have the freedom to do create a world and put characters in it and do whatever you want with them. The difficult part is making it believable. So I read it as fiction, forgetting the news articles I had looked up, and tried desperately to finish it before I had to get off the plane. It probably wasn’t the best book to read on a trip back from sunny California after a beautiful, happy, teary wedding but that’s just the way I am. For the same reason I could never live in a place where it’s sunny all the time, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have a dark thought every once in a while.
How does something like this happen? What compels a person to accumulate so much junk? This photo is from the NYTimes. I can’t stop staring at it. They removed 100 tons of crap!! It took them weeks to find Langley’s body. The irony is that his life revolved around accumulating papers, parts, and other things. In the end, those things are what killed him.