How Did They End Up That Way?
'Using his patented blend of fact and fiction, E. L. Doctorow has tackled the Collyer brothers, producing a slight, unsatisfying, Poe-like story that turns out to be a study in morbid
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI Published in the New York Ties, : August 31, 2009
The day in March 1947 when the Collyers’ brownstone at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street was raided by the police.
The corpses of the two men would be found in their Fifth Avenue home by police in 1947: one buried under an avalanche of rat-infested trash; the other, dead of starvation and assorted ailments.
How did the well-to-do scions of one of New York’s oldest families come to such a sad and ludicrous end? The story is a kind of male, New York City version of “Grey Gardens,” and it has fascinated writers for years. It reportedly inspired Marcia Davenport’s 1954 novel, “My Brother’s Keeper,” and Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play, “The Dazzle,” and now Mr. Doctorow, using his patented blend of fact and fiction, has tackled it here, producing a slight, unsatisfying, Poe-like story that turns out to be a study in morbid psychology.
Mr. Doctorow (the E. stands for Edgar) has said he was named for Poe, and he’s ventured into his namesake’s Gothic territory before with his 1994 novel “The Waterworks,” a story about science and detection and families. That novel, like the author’s best-known works, “Ragtime,” “World’s Fair” and “Billy Bathgate,” showcased the author’s magical ability to conjure a vanished New York from the dust and smoke of history.