Friday, September 04, 2009

Homer and Langley

E. L. Doctorow has written one of my all-time favorite short stories, and I have always found the Collyer brothers intriguing, so I eagerly immersed myself into his newly-released novel, which is based very loosely on their history. Homer and Langley Collyer were famous for barricading themselves in their New York mansion in the early 20th century, filling it with hoarded miscellany, and dying--one under a collapsed heap of trash, the other, crippled and unable to care for himself, shortly thereafter of starvation.

But I found I could not finish the book. While Doctorow has a wonderful voice and storytelling skills, I found that knowing how it all ended made it incredibly depressing. Sometimes we really don't want to know that they don't live happily ever after. Also, sexual relationships are described in some detail. But with those caveats, you could enjoy a well-written story that I, alas, could not.

The Probable Future

Alice Hoffman has made a name for herself with such novels as Practical Magic, but I have not read her before this. The Probable Future touches on the lives of the Sparrow women, residents of Unity for generations, and definitely different. Each receives a gift on her thirteenth birthday: Elinor is able to smell a lie, her daughter Jenny dreams other people's dreams, and Jenny's daughter Stella can look at a person and see how they will die. Stella's inexperience in dealing with her gift results in her father being jailed for murder, and sets in motion a series of events that transform the Sparrow women and those who love them.

Alice Hoffman writes beautiful and compelling prose. Her characters are distinctive and, for the most part, sympathetic. "Magical" comes to mind--not just the peculiar gifts held by the Sparrow women, but Alice's entrancing voice and spellbinding narrative make this novel one I can highly recommend. The Probable Future is certainly an adult novel, although a mature teen could well enjoy it. I rate it no more than PG, since it eschews sensuality or graphic details.