Flowers for Algernon

Once again a book where I don’t remember where I first heard of it.  Either way, it’s a wonderful book and a fantastic look at so much of our society.  I really want to talk about the book, so it’s on with the review.

Book StatsFlowers for Algernon

311 pages

Drama with an element of Science Fiction

Plot

The back of the book sums up the overall plot of this book perfectly.  Charlie Gordon is a man with a very low IQ, but he wants to become smarter.  Scientists have been experimenting with a surgical method to increase overall intelligence, and it has worked wonders on a lab mouse named Algernon.  After Charlie gets the surgery his intelligence rapidly increases beyond that even of the scientists who set up his treatment.  But then Algernon starts to regress, and Charlie worries about what will happen to him.

Setting

Present day New York and other areas around the country.

Characters

The book is told through a series of progress reports by Charlie, and he is a wonderful character both as he starts the book and as he gains intelligence throughout the course of the book.  All of the other characters are described through Charlie’s point of view, and the way that they’re described you really get a feeling for their individual personalities.

Enjoyment

I think I can easily say that this is the second best book I’ve read all year, and quite frankly, after finally getting to read A Memory of Light in March, every book that I read for the rest of the year was going to be fighting for second place.

On it’s surface the story is about Charlie gaining intelligence, but there’s so much more going on in the book than that.  There were several different parts of the book that dealt with every aspect of growing as a person.  Learning that you’re different from other people, that other people may dislike you for nothing that you’ve done.  Learning about the gamut of human emotions, learning to try and look at things from another person’s perspective.

There is a scene about 1/3 of the way through the book, where Charlie has been fired from the bakery he worked at because his increased intelligence has made his co-workers uncomfortable working with him.  There is a single paragraph that perfectly sums up every emotion you can have when you feel out of place in a group of people:

There was nothing more to say, to her or to the rest of them.  None of them would look into my eyes.  I can still feel the hostility.  Before, they had laughed at me, despising me for my ignorance and dullness; now, they hated me for my knowledge and understanding.  Why?  What in God’s name did they want of me?

Charlie didn’t feel like he fit in when he was dumb, and he didn’t feel like he fit in when he was intelligent.  In the next paragraph he wonders what would happen if Algernon were to be put back with the rest of the regular lab mice?

There is another great scene that takes place about 2/3 of the way through the book.  Charlie is sitting at a restaurant when a mentally challenged busboy drops a tray of plates and many of the diners in the restaurant – including Charlie – start to laugh at him.

I felt sick inside as I looked at his dull, vacuous smile–the wide, bright eyes of a child, uncertain but eager to please, and I realized what I had recognized in him.  They were laughing at him because he was retarded.

And at first I had been amused along with the rest.

The last part of the book that I’m going to quote comes from an argument that Charlie is having with Nemur, one of the people behind his experimental surgery.  They’re arguing, and Nemur asks Charlie if he thought he was better off before and Charlie says: “In some ways, yes.”  Later, when arguing with himself in a mirror he says:

Who’s to say that my light is better than your darkness?  Who’s to say death is better than your darkness?  Who am I to say?…

I would argue that the central theme of this book is the battle between academic intelligence and emotional intelligence, and specifically how the two are completely independent of each other.  The book also deals with what parts of our society favor what aspect.  Outside of the academic world, most people simply don’t care about how smart you actually are.  Most people are more concerned with the more emotional side, preferring to discus interpersonal relationships as opposed to ideas.  I’m also going to say that as someone who leans more towards the academic side of the spectrum, it can be difficult to function in a world where most people simply don’t care about many of the things that interest you.

Overall Grade

A wonderful book that is a fantastic dissection of so many different aspects of our society, as well as a very interesting examination of the full emotional spectrum that we go through as we grow up.

10/10

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4 Comments

  1. My in-laws are friends with Daniel Keyes–my father-in-law and he were professors together at Ohio University way back when. The only book I’ve read by him is The Minds of Billy Milligan, but this one is on my TBR pile.

    Reply
    • That’s awesome that you have that close of a connection to the author. The closest I can say is that I live in Ohio, which isn’t nearly as interesting overall.

      This is a wonderful book, and I’ll have to look into more of his stuff in the future,

      Reply
  2. This is one book that I’m definitely going to read. One of my most trusted book buddies highly recommends it so I’m looking forward to it very much.
    Lynn 😀

    Reply
    • Obviously I raved about it in my review, I really enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to eventually buying more books by the author.

      Reply

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