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Books: Flowers for Algernon
Sunday, 2007 May 13 - 11:55 am
Another in my "catching up on the classics" series.

Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon is another one of those classics that most people read in high school. Originally a Hugo-award winning short story, Keyes later adapted it into a Nebula-award winning novel. It also became an Oscar-winning movie ("Charly"), and even a Broadway musical.

It's the story of Charlie Gordon, a young man with an IQ of 68. After scientists develop an intelligence-boosting operation and test it out on a laboratory mouse, Algernon, Charlie becomes the experiment's first human subject. We follow his progress, via his own journal reports, as he develops into a genius. But with his new-found intelligence, he realizes that the people he thought had been his friends had really been laughing at him all along. He becomes increasingly isolated and angry, and his behavior becomes more and more erratic... and all along, Algernon foreshadows his eventual fate.

It's an interesting story. Now, perhaps I've read and seen too many similar stories already, but I kinda figured out how the story would end by the middle of the book. I found Keyes' use of foreshadowing to be a little bit too obvious. And once I started noticing all the foreshadowing, I also started to notice how obvious all his symbolism was. I mean, it didn't make it a bad book; but sometimes the style seemed a little juvenile. It was hard to tell whether Keyes was intentionally doing that; after all, it's written in the first person, from the point of view of a man-child. But I think to assume that would be giving Keyes too much credit.

I suppose I would have thought this book was incredible, if I'd read it as a teenager. But as a snobbish adult, it was more of just an interesting diversion. I might go back and read the novella version; maybe I'll find the writing to be a little bit tighter there.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: booksreviews


Comment #1 from JohnC (Guest)
2007 May 13 - 10:12 pm : #
despite your middling review, I just requested this book from
Comment #2 from Phil (Guest)
2007 May 14 - 2:20 am : #
I loved this book when we read it in 8th grade English (a rare case of the NC public schools being ahead in anything, if we read this in middle school, not high school?). When our English teacher introduced it and mentioned that the movie version had starred Cliff Robertson, she was honestly shocked when the class had no idea who she was talking about. Looking back at his IMDB listing, I'm not sure she should have been. I don't recognize any of the titles of his movies between 1968 (one year after most of our class was born) and 1980 when we read the book. We might have recognized some of his flix from the 80s and 90s, though (including the Spider Man series), though we might not have known who he was.

Two enduring things from my reading that book: (1) My mind still says "Raw Shock test" almost any time someone talks about the Rorschach. And (2) I almost always think "Progris Riport" when someone says "Progress Report."

For a completely enduring (and funny) read of a man-child with idiot-smarts, read Winston Groom's "Forrest Gump" which frickin' kills.
Comment #3 from Bake Town (Guest)
2007 May 14 - 12:28 pm : #
I didn't read it in high school, but I did read it a few years ago. I liked it. It made me cry.

I recommend The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers if you haven't already read it. Very well written - great book.

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