Book Cover
Title Flowers For Algernon
Series ---
Author Daniel Keyes
Cover Art Unknown
Publisher Bantam Books - 1988
First Printing Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. - 1966
Category Medical SF
Warnings Some sexual content

Main Characters

Charly Gordon, Dr. Strauss, Dr. Nemur, Alice Kinnian, Algernon

Main Elements ---

Back cover: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON made its first appearance as a short story which was rapidly and widely anthologized, and translated internationally. It received further acclaim as a memorable television drama, and as a motion picture production. Now, full-bodied and richly-peopled, FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON is the daring novel of a startling human experiment!

Inside back cover: Flowers for Algernon made it's first appearance as a magazine story in 1960 and won the Hugo award that year for the best science fiction novelette. It was then a television drama, is here enlarged to novel length, and is also the basis for a motion picture.

Warning: Do not read this book without a kleenex box at hand. I think they should write that in bold letters on the cover of the book. And make sure the box is full.

The first time I read this book was over 10 years ago; it was included on my high school summer reading list. The second time I read it was about a week ago. I found I had remembered the plot, but none of the details, so it was like reading it for the first time. With 10 years more of experience, it certainly affected me more than it did the first time.

This is the story of Charly Gordon, a man of 30 with the mind of a child suffering from mental retardation. He is given a chance to be "become smart" through an experimental procedure which had already successfully raised the intelligence of the laboratory mouse, Algernon, who time and time again, beats Charly in a race to complete a maze. The process is told through the eyes of Charly himself, as we read the progress reports he was asked to write. They start off simple, full of spelling and grammatical errors, which after the operation, progress to a point where he notes that he has to simplify them so the doctors running the experiment can understand them.

So yes, I'll tell you that the experiment was a success, but there are strings attached. Now that he can actually understand the world, we see how he suddenly has to come to terms with this new understanding. He finds out that his "friends" that used to laugh *with* him, were actually laughing *at* him. He goes from being a friendly, happy person to being paranoid about people using him for their own gain. As they say, ignorance is bliss, and having eaten the fruit of knowledge, Charly has been thrown out of the Garden of Eden, naked and cold in a harsh, cruel world.

This book had a particular effect on me. My uncle is suffering from Alzeihmer's, and I've been forced to consider what life would be like to forget everything you once knew. To know that you once knew how to do amazing things, books you'd read, languages you'd spoken, only now to be reduced to knowing only enough to function on a daily basis. To have it all slip through your fingers, almost not noticing, maybe even denying it to yourself, but at the same time, being aware of the truth...I can't imagine what that would be like. Like the unicorn in The Last Unicorn, Charly will be forever changed, because now he knows that it is he had lost, and there are regrets. He can't go back to where he started, can't take up where he left off. Its different now.

I think this is a wonderfully written book, with very complex characters, and a warning to make use of what we've got before we loose it without hope of ever getting it back.

Posted: April 2006


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