Updated: 8/16/15; 18:43:32

pedantic nuthatch
Life in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. B.M.A.T.C., and Etruscan typewriter erasers. Blogged by David Gorsline.

Wednesday, 31 March 2004

The story of New York's Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, who lived in reclusive pack-rat mystery in a brownstone in a crumbling neighborhood from 1909 to 1947, is a compelling one. A modern book-length treatment of the death of Homer, blind and chair-ridden and thereby dependent on Langley, and of the ultimate discovery of Langley's corpse in one of his own booby-traps set against intruders, would be welcomed. Unfortunately, this is not the book to satisfy readers' desires.

To his credit, Franz Lidz begins his story with the removal of Homer's remains from the house at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street and uses the search for Langley to provide suspense to the narrative. But Lidz interweaves the account of the Collyers with his own memoir of his eccentric, obsessive-acquisitive, and sometimes downright insane uncles. As a result, a magazine article's worth of material about the Harlem junk collectors is padded into a small-format 160-page book.

For his tale of Langley and Homer, Lidz relies on contemporary newspaper accounts and a profile in Out of This World, by Helen Worden, who first met Langley in 1938. As her book seems to be long out of print, we are grateful that her material has resurfaced. Perhaps he relies on it too much when he uncritically accepts a remark that the delusional Langley makes to Worden about Langley's appearance on the same Carnegie Hall concert stage as piano virtuoso Paderewski.

The interweaving os his stories causes Lidz to repeat himself from time to time, and an all-around tighter editing hand is wanted—as is an index. At his most self-indulgent, Lidz quotes his Uncle Leo's bad verse, as if that illuminated the psyches of the Fifth Avenue hermits.

posted: 4:30:48 PM  

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