Monday, November 10, 2008

Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon: A++

Following his doctor's instructions, engaging simpleton Charlie Gordon tells his own story in semi-literate "progris riports." He dimly wants to better himself, but with an IQ of 68 can't even beat the laboratory mouse Algernon at maze-solving:

"I dint feel bad because I watched Algernon and I lernd how to finish the amaze even if it takes me along time.

I dint know mice were so smart."

Algernon is extra-clever thanks to an experimental brain operation so far tried only on animals. Charlie eagerly volunteers as the first human subject. After frustrating delays and agonies of concentration, the effects begin to show and the reports steadily improve: "Punctuation, is? fun!"

But getting smarter brings cruel shocks, as Charlie realizes that his merry "friends" at the bakery where he sweeps the floor have all along been laughing at him, never with him. The IQ rise continues, taking him steadily past the human average to genius level and beyond, until he's as intellectually alone as the old, foolish Charlie ever was--and now painfully aware of it. Then, ominously, the smart mouse Algernon begins to deteriorate... (amazon)

Ever read a book that critiques the complexities of human nature in a subtle but beautiful manner that leaves you somewhat breathless?

Flowers for Algernon is a nationally-acclaimed novel. When it was written as a novella, it won the Hugo Award; the 1966 novel-length expansion won a Nebula. The big-screen adaptation won an Oscar, which led the way to a Broadway musical.

It is the diary of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded man who undergoes brain surgery and becomes a genius. You, along with Charlie, discover life-before-surgery and life-after-surgery; how difficult it is for Charlie to realize that all of the people he thought were his "friends" had secretly been laughing at the "dummy" for years, how he comes to realize people are corrupted and selfish, how he is treated as a subject of a tremendous science experiment; how he deals with the discovery of the opposite sex, and how he copes with being a genius after being dumb for so long.

It is heartwarming, powerful, and genuinely an A+ read. It's guaranteed to evoke the most basic of emotions out of you.

If it doesn't, you're heartless.

..okay, I'm joking, but really, read this! It's fabulous.


Wendy said...

This is arguably my favorite book of all time. It's a toss up between Algernon and Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck. Incidentally, both books have a central theme of tolerance and love at their core. Coincidence?

Brie said...

I read Flowers from Algernon in high school and loved it. It is a lovely book. One that I should probably buy just to have it handy on my shelf.