In Homer & Langley (Random House, $26) E. L. Doctorow uses the true story of Manhattan’s eccentric Collyer brothers and re-imagines it to take the reader on a tour of 20th-century America. From World War I through the Summer of Love, Doctorow brilliantly and poignantly writes in the voice of Homer, the blind younger brother, discussing the changes in the larger world while he and Langley continue to erode inside their smaller one, searching for love and companionship in a society they understand less and less with each passing year.
As she did in her memoir, The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls spins family dysfunction into a riveting, triumphant tale. Walls writes Half Broke Horses (Scribner, $26), a “true-life novel,” in the voice of her spirited, defiant grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Lily grew up in the Depression’s grueling rural poverty, moving from a Texas dugout to a failing New Mexico ranch. She was forced to leave school when her father spent her tuition money on a pack of great Danes, but she still became a pilot, rancher, and teacher. Think Little House on the Prairie, with a bit more grit and a lot more sass.
Written at various times in his illustrious literary career, the five stories in William Styron’s The Suicide Run (Random House, $24) are wrought from Styron’s experience as a Marine lieutenant at the end of World War II. The title story refers to a young soldier recalled to service for the conflict in Korea, and the weekend trips he made from Camp Lejeune to Manhattan to visit his mistress. The fullest and most satisfying piece is “My Father’s House,” which pairs a young Marine’s reminiscences of his father’s home in Virginia, his hope of returning to it, and his trouble re-assimilating to life in the South, with his more recent memories, some idyllic and some gut-wrenching, of time in Saipan awaiting orders for the invasion of Japan before the war was ended by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.