Fatty's Reviews > Homer & Langley

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
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Jul 03, 10

Where is my brother, my keeper?

the writing of e.l. doctorow has always the depth of wells and bears the cadences of those depths. he brings into his prose the bitterness of philosophy and of poetry. in his latest novel, doctorow explores the bitterness of history in its most concentrated form imaginable.

homer and langley has the density of the lives of its two main characters, the infamous collyer brothers (after whom, so i understand, an entire syndrome is named, a syndrome now commonly referred to as ocd). instead of seeing this collector's tendency as a debilitating illness, doctorow has the intellectual generosity to see it as a platonic expression. when langley brings home first one, then eight typewriters of various make and model, the narrator, homer--the chronicler, the sensitive epic voice--, understands his brother to be searching for the ultimate expression of the form 'typewriter'. even in langley's relentless collection of daily newspapers, a particularly poignant project in our current climate of the gradual extinction of print journalism, lurks a platonic undertaking, the goal being the creation of a single edition newspaper that will describe with exquisite accuracy a litany of events that have always happened and will always happen with only minor, and therefore unnecessarily heeded, variation (one war replacing the last, one natural disaster scarring over the ruins of a previous catastrophe, one political scandal eclipsing the next in so many repetitions of irrelevant detail).

while one brother is busy reducing the world into a more or less neat set of essentials (how marvelous that the byproduct of such a reduction should be untold tons of impedimenta), the other is busy elaborating it with the subtle lusts of his muddy human heart.

God's Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
All is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And, for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And thought the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastwards, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

w.h. auden

Doom is dark and deeper than any sea-dingle.
Upon what man it fall
In spring, day-wishing flowers appearing.
Avalanche sliding, white snow from rock-face.
That he should leave his house,
No cloud-soft hand can hold him, restraint by women;
But ever that man goes
Through place-keepers, through forest trees,
A stranger to strangers over undried sea,
Houses for fishes, suffocating water,
Or lonely on fell as chat,
by pot-holed becks
a bird stone-haunting, an unquiet bird.

There head falls forward, fatigued at evening,
And dreams of home,
Waving from window, spread of welcome,
Kissing of wife under single sheet;
But waking sees
Bird-flocks nameless to him, through doorway voices
Of new men making another love.

Save him from hostile capture,
From sudden tiger's spring at corner;
Protect his house,
His anxious house where days are counted
From thunderbolt protect,
From gradual ruin spreading like a stain;
Converting number from vague to certain,
Bring joy, bring day of his returning,
Lucky with day approaching, with leaning dawn.

Introducing Alvaro de Campos
by Fernando de Pessoa

Yes, I am I, I myself, just what I turned out to be after all
A sort of accessory or leftover,
The foggy suburbs of my sincere emotion,
It's me here inside of me, it's me.

What I was, what I wasn't--that's all me,
What I wanted, what I didn't, all of that gets to be me,
What I loved, what I stopped loving--it's all become the same sad
yearning in me.

And at the same time, the yearning, a bit inconsequential,
Like a dream made of mixed realities,
Of facing myself left behind on a seat in a trolley,
To be accidentally met by someone who'd sit down on top of me.

* * * *

I'm me, and what the hell can I do about it!...

* * * *

I who am, in the end, a continual dialogue,
A loud incomprehensible voice from the tower in the depths of the
When the untouched bells sound indistinctly
With the pain of knowing there's life to live tomorrow.

* * * *

I, the solemn investigator of useless things...

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Kenny Chaffin I think you have described exactly what I feel about E.L.Doctorow's writing and style. It has palpable depth. I loved this book.

Susan The book, I believe, that you are thinking of was written a long time ago about the Collyer brothers by Marsha xxxx, Look for "My Brother's Keeper" and I should have looked it up first so I could tell you the author's last name. I read that book easily 40 years ago and it continues to haunt me. I don't think Homer and Langley will do the same.

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