Doctorow's Homer and Langley

Homer Lusk Collyer and Langley Collyer were two American brothers who became famous because of their compulsive hoarding.

The brothers are often cited as an example of compulsive hoarding associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as disposophobia or 'Collyer brothers syndrome,' a fear of throwing anything away. They collected newspapers, books, furniture, musical instruments, and many other items, with booby traps set up in corridors and doorways to protect against intruders.

Both were eventually found dead in the Harlem brownstone where they had lived as hermits, surrounded by over 100 tons of rubbish that they had amassed over several decades.

Collyer, a blind, bedridden hermit, had died of malnutrition and heart failure. Weeks later, after excavating more than 100 tons of rubbish, police found Homer's brother, Langley, who had also died in the house after accidentally crushing himself with a booby trap he had set to capture intruders.

This bizarre story captured the imagination the young E.L. Doctorow who has re-imagined their lives in his new book, Homer and Langley.

In an interview on NPR, Doctorow said he was intrigued by the idea that they had come from a well-to-do family but had chosen to leave that world behind. They had attended Columbia University before they shut out the world in their family's mansion on Fifth Avenue.

I like most of Doctorow's novels, and Ragtime really carried me away when I read it right after college graduation.

I like Doctorow's method for writing the new novel. He says that he needed to "break into that house" and see what the brothers were doing and that this book required "interpretation, not research."

The Collyer Brothers' Brownstone
on Fifth Avenue and 128th Street in 1947.

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