In brief: Flowers for Algernon is a book that is so good, that even Mr. Silverstien’s tenth grade English Class couldn’t stop me from enjoying it. Having re-read it recently, my opinion has only increased. This story of a mentally challenged (or whatever the PC term for that is now) man who undergoes an unspecified procedure to increase his intelligence is a must read for anyone, regardless of the genre they enjoy.
Setting: Modern day.
In Depth: Flowers for Algernon is the story of Charlie, a mentally challenged man who volunteers to undergo a procedure that will make him “normal.” The tale is brilliantly told through Charlie’s journals, as he discusses his changing life and that of Algernon, the eponymous mouse who first underwent the procedure. Such a description does not do justice to the story, for we watch as Charlie goes from being a man outcast due to his mental disabilities, to a super-genius equally unable to relate. More importantly we see him deal with his own feelings and personal growth as he addresses and fails to address his own personal history.
For me, this story was perhaps the first book to make me really appreciate the greatest strengths of Speculative Fiction: the ability to ask questions of the human condition by placing people into circumstances beyond what they could otherwise experience. In Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes did that in spades. He told a beautiful story of identity in a manner that I have yet to see equaled.
If you haven’t read this book, you really need to. If you only read it in Mr. Silverstien’s 10th Grade English Class, you may want to re-read it. Even if you dislike Science Fiction, this tale is brilliant and won’t disappoint. No lasers, no aliens, just one man and his sad, sad, sad journey.