Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A mingling of darkness and light


"What do we really know? If every question is answered so that we know everything there is to know about life and the universe, what then? What will be different? The darkness will be there still. The deepest darkness. The darkness that is deeper than any sea-dingle."

This was a book I was pleased to read among my Batman graphic novels for July, weekly marathon and subsequent reviews for Batman: The Animated Series, and an assortment of shoujo/josei manga. It was only two-hundred and a few pages long and had a languorous yet hardly wasteful prose, with a first-person narrative that manages to be contemplative in all the right places, even heartbreaking. 

A simple yet elegant story about brothers--one a blind and romantic musician as its storyteller; the other a cynical and aspiring philosopher with a penchant for collecting forgotten things--Homer and Langley follows their journey throughout distinct eras of American history, ranging from the two World Wars, the hippie, peace-loving late sixties to seventies, and the polarizing and tumultuous eighties which are the times the brothers still maintain an interactive yet somehow deteriorating contact with the outside world. By the nineties and as they reach old age, both Homer and Langley Collyer began to retreat further into their hermit lifestyle within the frugal comforts of their family  house which had withstand and bore remnants of the decades that passed it by as seen from the trinkets and nostalgia-inducing objects left behind its quarters.

This was a strangely endearing novel, part-period piece and part-memoirs. It manages to be engaging in spite of the straightforward and linear storytelling. Nothing particularly exciting truly happens apart from the brother's encounters with a crime boss and the latter parts of the book where the Colliers became the talk of town because of their reclusive lifestyle and accumulating debts from public agencies. Homer as the first-person narrator is likeable enough. He is visually-impaired yet musically-inclined, describing the life he lived and experienced with his brother with such vivid richness in spite of his lack of sight. The transient relationships he had with other people always have a sad tinge to them most probably because of how deeply he allows himself to get attached, unguarded and unquestioning. He was such a romantic, highly contrasting his more stern and pragmatic brother. Langley is a philosophizing cynic who believes in the Theory of Replacements and yet he is a walking, talking and breathing contradiction. While Homer is content exploring the world with an open understanding yet limited curiosity, Langley questions and challenges almost everything that comes his way, often becoming miserable and frustrated of the little terrible things humanity gets itself into. His major project is to compile a single global newspaper where he collected all necessary news events that should be preserved. He also had little side projects such as painting, believing he can somewhat restore Homer's sight through tactile recognition. He is a determined intellectual who in spite of his flawed and resistant nature against change is actually a decent and loving brother who remained loyal and devoted to Homer throughout their lives.

"I could only think of how easily people die. And then there was that feeling one gets in a ride to a cemetery trailing a body in a coffin--an impatience with the dead, a longing to be back home where one could get on with the illusion that not death but daily life is the permanent condition.

Homer and Langley reads as something you might hear from a pair of grandparents, in this case a couple of old men who are mismatched brothers and who surprisingly got along just fine even if their differences are so readily apparent. As a novel itself, it's not very action-oriented and only told in one perspective, with a few dialogues. But I genuinely found it such a quaint autobiography about a person's life rich with details of even the tiniest insecurities, tragedies and triumphs. Reading it was a breeze and I stayed emotionally invested enough on the brothers to see how their story wrapped up by the end of this book. I could recommend this novel because of how at ease it made me feel perusing it, and made me think about my grandfathers in both sides of the family who passed away before I was even a teenager. 

This is what it would probably be like to learn about the daily grind of their lives from the past. I think my parents could easily have their own unique tales to impart in the future and I certainly think that theirs would have the same charm and poignancy as Homer and Langley's. Not the most thrilling or life-changing of books but this one is subtly enthralling in its own way. One of the few good examples of how a memoir can be written.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10