The tale of compulsive hoarders Homer and Langley Collyer so shocked 1940s Manhattan that the brothers and their Harlem brownstone live on today as one of the most notable American case studies of acute disposophobia.
With a nervous energy and obsession to match his protagonists, Matt Bell’s prose burrows, forensically, into the layers of the brothers’ lives, employing a multilinear narrative structure and a frenetic plurality of perspectives to reach a core of despair that is both terrifyingly primal and distressingly familiar.
PRAISE FOR The CoLLECTORS
"‘Even a book can be a door,’ suggests the narrator of Matt Bell’s The Collectors. What you’ll find behind this particular door are two shaken and shaky brothers losing their tenuous grip on reality, slowly filling their house with decades of booby-trapped detritus and precious trash. The Collectors is a compelling portrait both of the way a heated mind can come to recreate the world and of how fascination with such a mind can end up being its own sort of trap. A wonderful, obsessive novella." —Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain and Last Days
"Matt Bell makes of the pathology of the miser, hoarder, or packrat an emblem of the obsessive life and makes his reader understand how the compulsion to collect may be only the mind’s seeking to construct for itself a refuge from an intolerable and otherwise inescapable reality. Bell’s fiction excites pity for those who live, as though walled up, in ruins of their own necessary construction. I admire The Collectors for the certainty of its prose and its unflinching observation of a most profound alienation—envying the first; fearing the second; and unhappily aware that artifice—no matter how splendid—is inadequate to ameliorate the despair." —Norman Lock, author of A History of the Imagination
"Matt Bell’s lifesick pair, Langley and Homer, shell-shocked under a pile of newspapers, are disquieting, hilarious, and—in that strange way that makes Beckett’s and Kafka’s characters so urgent—entirely recognizable. Bell has written a beauty." —Deb Olin Unferth, author of Vacation
“The style tends to lists and compound-complex constructions, such as when we get an inkling of psychology, regarding the father’s abandonment: "Every stray hair clinging to a shirt collar, every scrap of handwriting left in the margins of his texts, all of it is him, is who he was. It’s all that’s left, but if you keep it safe then it’s all you’ll ever need.” Hard feelings have calcified, leaving everyone pretty well paralyzed even before the accident to the (slightly) more mobile brother. That accident’s the only event; the rest is inventory, including the death rattle.“ —John Domini at Bookslut
"Matt Bell’s The Collectors might really be the most disturbing but beautiful example of cross-genre literature I have ever read in the form of a chapbook. Short but epic, disturbing yet beautiful, and absolutely haunting to the core—this is truly the stuff of nightmares, and most assuredly, a diamond in the rough.” —Colum McKnight at Paperback Horror
“Ultimately, The Collectors is as much a confession as an investigation, action and apologia braided together. For despite our greatest attempts at authenticity as fiction writers, we cannot help—in fact, we must—alter the histories and pasts we seek to animate, which is a kind of ruin. Even the most rigorous attempts to dignify and understand the lives of our subjects will eventually distort them, if for no other reason than they are a means to an end: the writing itself. And this side effect of the process is something that Bell’s narrator, the unnamed writer, is keenly aware of. Near the end of the book he even says, ‘I want them to see you as I saw you when I first came to this place, before I started telling your story to my own ends.’” —Jeremiah Chamberlain at Fiction Writers Review
“The whole thing is like a maze, and the story matches that framework… You can choose however you want to read The Collectors. You can read it several times and be fooled into thinking it’s several books. Having written several books and then collapsing them all into the same story, Matt Bell’s The Collectors is a jaw-dropping achievement.” —Adam Robinson at The Chapbook Review
“To have engaged unknowingly in such an exact dialogue with Beckett is astounding. That alone is worthy of note. One can’t help but think of Pierre Menard composing word for word the Quixote, having never read Cervantes. It’s exciting to think what Bell will tackle next. He may abandon the subjects of solitude and decay, or he may improve the canon.” —James Kaelan at Flatmancrooked
“The Collectors is a very thoughtful and well-crafted meditation on loneliness, belonging and the writer’s role in society, one which I know I’ll be returning to again and again in the coming years.” —Pete Anderson
“We are told: 'I am conducting an investigation. I am holding a wake. I am doing some or all or none of these things.’ What is achieved then is more than just fiction, more than just referential, and more than just real. It is simultaneously a comment on each of these ideas, which is even more effective at communicating a sense of these characters. The authorial 'I’ who is making this, a testament, to 'you Langley and to him, Homer’ makes these characters most fragile, most human, most identifiable to the reader in a shared search for answers, a persistent questioning. The characters in The Collectors may not be Real, but they’re real enough. Maybe even more than real in their very human 'defect,’ their indefinable and changing subjectivity, and their inability to even define themselves, no matter how much stuff belonged to them, or them to it.” —Kim Gek Lin Short at Gently Read Literature
“The Collectors was heartbreaking and heartwarming. To think of these two brothers, living in their own world, one trapped by his body, both trapped by their minds, and the ways they cared for one another, surrounded by a bewildering inventory of things. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the most painful and beautiful part of the story is the aftermath, when we, as readers, are forced to witness a sort of betrayal as strangers breach the perimeter of their home and excavate their things and their bodies and their secrets and then take it all way.” —Roxane Gay at PANK
“'How long has Homer been sitting here in the dark?’ The story begins, and by the end the reader is left wondering the same thing, but not just about Homer, about themselves as well. Homer’s darkness is not just the physical lack of light, or the depressing state in which we discover his life, no, it is the nature of growing old. Homer and Langley have grown old together, clutching their disappointments, the way they hang on to their posessions. In this way they are a cautionary tale, one the first person narrator affirms when he says, 'Once, I wanted to be just like them.’” —Ryan W. Bradley at North Punk Press Reviews