Daniel Keyes: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

Published: 1966
Winner or Rec? Nebula winner 1967 (tied with BABEL-17)
Started reading: August 25th
Finished reading: August 27th

Epic Reading Project book #19

HOT DIGGITY. Okay, kids, gather round. You know I like emotional books rather than intellectual books, but this one is both. I’m going to have to put the rest of this review under a cut because you can’t talk about this book without spoiling the entire plot. If you don’t want to be spoiled, let this suffice: It’s an amazing book, I nearly cried, and as someone who never cries at books EVER (with one famous exception), that is a big deal.

READ IT. It’s an incredibly important book for a number of reasons. I’d put it on par with BRAVE NEW WORLD.

Right. So it is about a mentally handicapped adult and a lab mouse, who are both subjected to scientific experimentation to improve their intelligence. And it works. They become geniuses. …And then it starts to fail. They start losing the ability that they’d once had. It’s fucking tragic.

It’s all in first person, in the point of view of Charlie Gordon, the human test subject, who has been instructed to write down his own experiments and reports of the testing process as part of how they’re measuring the success of the experiment. That means you can see it happen — he starts making fewer spelling errors, using bigger words, more complex sentences, more abstract ideas; he starts understanding other people’s motivations more complexly, understanding jokes, noticing the cruelty that has been directed towards him, remembering things he’d forgotten for years — and it’s amazingly, amazingly cool to watch. Amazing and, when his newfound genius starts to fail, when he starts to revert, when you see him misspell a word again… Heartbreaking.

This book can be read as commentary on so many things — on our treatment of the mentally and physically disabled, on the ethics of scientific testing, on the relationship between intelligence and humanity…

Read it. Read it, read it, read it. It will make you a better and more empathetic human being.

 

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