Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Book Jacket

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?

This is a classic I avoided for years because it just seemed too sad.  I finally got around to reading it, wasn't as sad as I expected.  I think my lack of emotion is largely because I knew what would happen.  I can imagine how gut-wrenching the end of the story would be if I were reading it completely unspoiled.

Still, there's no question why Keyes' novel is a classic.  The diary format works wonderfully well, both in documenting the narrative and in revealing the slow increase and later, the faster decrease, of Charlie's intelligence.

Charlie's story illuminates the double-edged sword of intelligence--both how we react to others' intelligence and how we deal with our own.  I loved the examination, especially because it made me uncomfortable with my own prejudices.

Four out of five inkblots.

Release Date: 1966
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of our collection.

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