Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes #MayFFA

Thursday, June 4, 2015


 

Read my halfway thoughts here.

Last weekend, I finished the second half of Flowers for Algernon in two sittings, just in time to have a week to ponder the book and gather my thoughts about it. By the end of the book, I felt as ambivalent about Charlie as I did initially, though I did empathize with him a lot more in the second half.

Daniel Keyes narrates a very compelling story by addressing the age-old question - what happens when you get something you always wanted but never prepared yourself to live with it? You may want riches but if you came into it suddenly one day, would you know what to do with it - squander it away or invest it or save it? In Charlie's case, it was intelligence. He wanted to be smart but it is not that he was incapable of enhancing his smartness, rather he was born mentally challenged.

I knew what to expect in the second half of the book, thanks to a spoiler in the Introduction. For much of the book, I was bummed out that I knew about it, but now, thinking back, I agree with Care that it helped to know what was coming. I was already looking for signs of that eventuality and it helped me appreciate some of the elements of Keyes' writing and hints that he dropped all over. It also made a few chapters very memorable to read.

I was quite bummed out that women weren't portrayed well in this book. Sure, it's the 60s and women in literature around this time were mostly sex objects or fluff characters or pawns intended to move men's stories forward. But still, they had personalities and a mind of their own, and all that was missing from this book.

But even the men in the book don't leave a big footprint behind. They certainly have more important roles but they were flat and mostly one-dimensional. That's the trouble with first-person stories, especially when they are from the perspective of someone who is mentally challenged or overly selfish.

This book is usually filed in the science fiction aisle, something I strongly disagree with. Sure, the idea of a magic pill to make you the smartest person in the world is the stuff of futuristic science fiction. But not when it dwells only on the effect it had on the recipient of that pill, as is the case in the book.

In the end, I was glad to have read this one. There is one chapter towards the end that makes reading the book so very worthwhile. It was powerful, sad, and incredibly moving. Up until that chapter, I wasn't that connected with the book, but that one chapter was super memorable.

Read Care's review or Bellezza's review of this book.

This book is from my personal library.


10 comments:

JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing said...

Sorry I missed reading with you, but I still want to reread this book. My memory from 8th grade is pretty fuzzy. Great post!

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

This is the second review I've read of this book this week that makes me want to read it.

Belle Wong said...

I really wish I remembered more about this book other than that I enjoyed it. I read it in high school, so a long time ago. And I do remember thinking, finally, a good one! But that's about it.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

Great book, it poses a an interesting question. Not only did he get smarter but he lost some of what made him human (does that sound a bit cliche?). We may get what we want but there's also the fine print - that's the whole point of the book, isn't it?
P.S. I sent you an email about 3 days ago. Please let me know if you got it. Thanks.

Bellezza said...

I think Daniel Keyes gave us a lot to think about with this book. First, it gives me so much compassion for the special needs person. I already feel almost guilty that my mind and body work well enough; I can't imagine how it would be to live in a body which doesn't. I think he's also posing the question about if science should mess with nature or not. It surely didn't end up helping Charley at all. He was almost better off before the surgery. And yet, we need new medicines and procedures to combat disease...

I read this in high school, and I'm glad I reread it decades later. It is such a powerful book, written from Charley's perspective with such poignancy.

Athira / Aths said...

If you do reread, I'll be eager to read your thoughts about this book. I hope you get a chance to reread it.

Athira / Aths said...

It is a fascinating book. If you do read, I'll be eager to hear what you think.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you do enjoy it!! :-)

Athira / Aths said...

That's exactly the point! Intelligence alone doesn't make a person - there is a bunch of things that go into it.

Athira / Aths said...

I love how so many books deal with that question of science meddling with nature. And yet science does meddle with nature - in some cases, it doesn't harm anyone or anything. Not so much in other things. It's definitely something that needs to be questioned on a case-by-case basis.