The other day I sent a message out to the world on Twitter that said, “Major author + really good writing, but = somewhat boring story. I almost feel like I wasted a few days of my life reading the book.” That of course, brought a number of responses from my Twitter followers. Some wanted to know who I was talking about, others tried to guess, and one bookseller hit it right on the head on his first guess. At that point, I felt like I had to come clean; to admit to everyone who I was talking about. I also felt like I was committing bookseller blasphemy.
The author is E. L. Doctorow and the book I was talking about is his newest novel, “Homer & Langley.”
Before I go further, let me just say a couple of things. I like Doctorow. I mean, I really like him. I was introduced to writing fiction in high school by being told to read “World’s Fair” and learn to write emulating him. “Billy Bathgate” was incredible. Doctorow easily has more awards for his writing than I have years in my life. I would love the chance to meet him one day. But, while immaculately written, “Homer & Langley” was not my favorite Doctorow novel. Why?
“Homer & Langley” is a fictional biography of the infamous New York City Collyer brothers who, while living in a mansion on Fifth Avenue, became the poster boys for pack-rats worldwide. They were born in the 1880‘s and died in 1947. Doctorow changed their timeline, moving them forward into the twentieth century so they could experience all the great events from World War I to the Vietnam War and the moon landing. While an interesting story to have two recluses experience the major events and watersheds of twentieth century United States from inside their mansion, the story also seemed a little contrived, kind of like Forrest Gump becoming inadvertently involved in most of the major political and cultural events of his lifetime.
While excellently written (Doctorow is incapable of writing a poor sentence), the story itself did not envelop me, pull me along and make me want to turn the page before I had finished reading the one I was on. The best episode of the entire story, where Homer and Langley are forced to house a wounded gangster, falls in the middle of the book.
If you are a Doctorow fan, “Homer & Langley” is a book worth reading, but I don’t expect this new novel to win new fans for this traditionally amazing author.
"Homer & Langley" by E. L. Doctorow, available September 1, 2009, is available for purchase by coming into the Bookmark at the U or by ordering from our online partner, Powell's.