Review: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was one of the last books I finished in 2018 and I loved it so much that I decided I needed to make it my first review of 2019. I realize this is more of a classic and many people have either already read the story(it won the Hugo for Short Story in 1960), but I need to discuss it for a second.

It wrecked me.

I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Jeff Woodman, who did a fantastic job. This book was by far one of the hardest things I have read/listened to but is also one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. Aside from the personal connection I have to it, this book was written with such painstaking intimacy of the human person and understanding of Charlie Gordon, that this is one that I’m going to have to return to every few years to appreciate those who are different from me.

We follow Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled adult, who undergoes an experimental surgery that increases his IQ to exponential levels. What is accounted for, is that Charlie’s psychological and emotional health is put into question since his intelligence increases more swiftly than his emotions can keep up with. This leads him to make rather immature mistakes and leaves him somewhat socially awkward if not crippled in some fashion.

I will say that the book is dated, being written in 1966, but these are only historical colloquialisms that tend to be more uncomfortable than anything else. Despite this, the prose is simple, but intimate, based on the fact that Charlie writes daily progress reports and these over time change and develop as his intelligence grows in leaps and bounds. Keyes really shows some real strength in his prose through this and Charlie’s voice is so real and so authentic that it is heartbreaking.

Bridging both the gaps of literary and science fiction, Flowers for Algernon is a story that defies clear genre definition and establishes itself as a true classic. I will always recommend this book.

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