Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

rating
(No Series)
Drama

With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance--until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
An American classic that inspired the award-winning movie Charly.

“Thank God for books and music and things I can think about."
 - Charlie Gordon

Be Warned: Spoilers in this Review!

I remember my mother watching this sometimes on TV when I was growing up. The haunting memory of an adult man in a swing-set at the end with the expression of a joyful child is hard to forget. I've always wanted to read the book, fascinated by the story. As soon as I started reading it, I knew disappointment would not be met. The book far exceeds the movie!

This truly incredible story is advanced for its time in terms of science-fiction and what man can (and cannot) accomplish. It's not a black and white issue either; today we still wouldn't know which would be the best course to take. Is it so much of an improvement to have brought his IQ to such a high level, or would it have been better to let him stay the way nature and God intended? He was held back by the disabilities of his mind...he couldn't be promoted at work and only worked as a favour of a friend. His friends at work made fun of him and he didn't even realize it. He couldn't have personal, adult relationships with women or other men. He couldn't make sound decisions about savings, checking, safety, insurance, and the proper way to live. The tragedy of this is he realized his limitations and dreamed of being smart like "other people", able to live as a normal man would.

The book focuses on every heartbreaking aspect - developing initial attractions to women as his mind starts maturing, the realization and horror at his parents dismissal of him and shame as they are unable to handle how limited their son is, seeing he didn't have the good friends he always thought he did. When his IQ reached higher proportions, he was able to then see that, despite his increased mind-power, he was still as isolated as ever from his peers. Likely due to character traits inherited from his past, whether he was "cured" nor not, but mainly because he has now crossed over to the other side, the opposite side, where he's too intelligent to relate with anyone.

His supreme intelligence made it so that he was the only who realized where the experiment would go wrong, and that like a cancer, his new-found mind would slowly fade away. Having to tell doctors the inevitable must have been especially daunting. Imagine, instead of getting the news from someone else, you realize what they can't, and have to focus on convincing them of your own personal doom.

This is not a happy book, obviously, but it's incredibly powerful. It reads nearly as a diary would - he was supposed to record thoughts as part of the experiments and process. The first part of the book you see horrible grammar, bad spelling, as if a small child were writing the book. It evolves, as the man does, becoming poetic, beautiful, gifted, and bitter.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's full of lessons about life, people, intelligence, social standing, science, dire consequences, faith, motivations, and acceptance. It shows that the ponderings and philosophies of people in regard to their fellow man have almost always stayed the same, no matter the generation.

From beginning to end it was both tragic and sobering. The book shows how literature can be a work of art. The ending closes the book, but the memory of the book shall not fade. 


 

   Book Quotes:

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.” 

 “That's the thing about human life--there is no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.” 

 “How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibilty, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes—how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.”

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