Genre: Science Fiction
Release Date: March 1966
The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In 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?
I decided to read Flowers for Algernon because whenever I peruse r/Books on Reddit, there’s always a thread about how incredible the book is, how it made people cry, and how it’s a life changing read. I certainly wouldn’t classify it under those descriptions, but I did enjoy it.
Flowers for Algernon is told through progress report entries as Charlie undergoes an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. Charlie’s IQ before the surgery was very low. He had difficulty working as a cleaner at a bakery and understanding social interactions. After the surgery, Charlie is well into genius territory.
The novel looks at disability, intelligence, love, and humanity through Charlie as his intelligence increases and comes to understand social interactions, past and present. These were some of the most difficult passages to read. The way people treated Charlie and his obliviousness is heartbreaking even as he gains understanding.
Charlie’s quick ascent to geniushood is miraculous. Everything about the narrative style changes. This is one of the aspects I liked most about the novel. Keys’ writing perfectly captures each stage of Charlie’s transformation. His writing becomes particularly adept after Charlie reaches peak intelligence.
The other aspect I enjoyed most about Flowers for Algernon was Keys’ use of emotional intelligence versus IQ. This is something that didn’t even cross my mind when I was first considering picking up the novel after reading the synopsis.
Though the verbiage used is dated, the story still holds up today, some 50 years later.
Overall, Flowers for Algernon is a worthwhile read as it captures disability, intelligence, love, and humanity through the eyes of someone experiencing a life altering change.