REVIEWED BY JOSH EMMONS
If author L.P. Hartley was right when he described the past as "a foreign country: They do things differently there," then Doctorow, one of our greatest living writers, has earned dual citizenship. After spectacular interpretations of turn-of-the-century America in Ragtime (1975) and General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in The March (2005), he builds his new novel, Homer & Langley, around the Collyer brothers, real-life recluses who became notorious in the 1940s for hoarding a museum's worth of junk in their shared Manhattan home. Written in Homer's voice, this affecting fictional memoir begins when the siblings are children in a gilded New York—an Age of Innocence opulence marks their surroundings—and then pivots on the two defining events of their lives: Homer's adult-onset blindness and his brother's harrowing service in World War I. Afterward, as their ties to other people fray and they find contentment in a near-total isolation, the two men's strange combination of naïveté and worldliness is rendered as gently and tragically beautiful. By its conclusion, Homer & Langley proves to be a powerful study in how living on society's margins can provide remarkable insights into what happens at its center.