Homer & Langley - E.L. Doctorow
I've read enough memoirs to be able to say that "Homer Collyer", the narrator of this novel, definitely doesn't write like someone who was born in 1881 (when the real Homer Collyer was). To be sure, E. L. Doctorow has distorted the timeline of this story in an unrealistic manner, extending the brothers' lives into the 1970s instead of the 1940s. That doesn't excuse the frequent blandness of the writing, though. It's a novel about history, and you'd expect there to be historical specificity to it. Langley's peculiar, critical view of humanity (wonderfully imagined, I must say -- I particularly liked his comments on the Moon landing, an event that took place two decades after the real Langley's death) certainly would have made a good hook for a view of the 20th century, if properly used. But people always have their own idiosyncratic view of the times they live through, and the events they choose to highlight are an important part of their view of what matters. Doctorow parades "highlights" of the twentieth century through the novel as if running down the paragraphs of a two-page summary in an easy-reader book; absolutely nothing unexpected there, and it seems quite artificial to impose this hindsight view on the brothers. It's lazy writing, no two ways about it.

The more personal aspects of the brothers' lives fare a bit better; Langley is a memorable character in many ways, but Homer doesn't entirely escape cliche, especially his love life. Doctorow did a good job of depicting how the accumulation of objects and deterioration of their house just seems matter-of-course to Homer. And when he finally can't keep from noticing that there are problems it becomes very terrifying.