Thom Geier
September 11, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Homer & Langley

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
E.L. Doctorow
publisher
Random House
genre
Fiction

We gave it a B-

E.L. Doctorow’s new novel, Homer & Langley, is loosely based on Manhattan’s legendary Collyer brothers, compulsive hoarders who were found dead in their Fifth Avenue mansion in 1947, buried (literally) in tons of accumulated stuff. In Doctorow’s reimagining, the brothers live into the 1980s and serve as conduits for a vast sweep of 20th-century American life: They consort with gangsters during Prohibition, lose Japanese-American servants to an internment camp during WWII, and take in hippies during the ’60s. As ever, Doctorow is a wonderful prose stylist. But his vignettes have a generic survey-course quality, and the brothers’ psychology remains mostly lost in the detritus. B?

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