Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Author: Daniel Keyes
Genres: Classic, Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook (Audible)
Narrator: Jeff Woodman
Length: 08 hrs and 58 mins

Flowers for Algernon

My Ranking:

With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse.

In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis.

The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance—until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration.

Will the same happen to Charlie?

This wasn't a book that I chose for myself, rather something I read for a book club. Being the brilliant procrastinator that I am, I was listening to the last 14 minutes of the story on the way to the book discussion. Whilst driving on the freeway, at the novel's final words ... I burst into tears. Impaired driving aside, this book was quite the emotional experience.

I wasn't expecting to react this way when I first started this book, but how could you not get emotionally invested? It’s a heartbreaking tale about a man who lives a life of confusion and fear then gains clarity along with love and respect only to lose it all again. Only he's cognizant of the loss — and the little time he has to enjoy his new life — every step of the way.

I enjoyed reading this book because I think Keyes did an excellent job bringing a strong voice to Charlie. I love how the language and writing style is so broken in the beginning of the book, and as his intelligence grows so does is diction and grammar. Great use of “show, don’t tell.” I’m glad that you don’t get a step-by-step retelling of his progress rather experience it as Charley does through his own words.

I really connected with Charlie as a character for the same reasons that he was chosen for the experiment — his optimistic personality, kindness and eagerness to improve himself. I’m no student of psychology or child development, so for me it was really interesting glimpse into how intelligence can affects you as you learn and become more aware of your environment. Not to say that this is 100% true to life, because I realize its a work of fiction but I’d assume this is kind of how it might go.

One of the worst things about this book was that Charlie actually predicted is own fate and ultimate regression, and more so that he was aware that everything he gained was slowly slipping away and away and away until it was gone. I'd assume that Alzheimer's sufferers must go through a similar experience, but I hope it's not true. It's just too cruel.

I'm not really going to go into too much more detail because it would give too much away. But I enjoyed this book immensely. It really made me think — about bullying, judging people without really knowing them, and about time. Especially about time.
“...Don't feel sorry for me. I'm glad I had a second chance in life like you said to be smart because I learned a lot of things that I never knew were in this world, and I'm grateful I saw it even for a little bit.”
― Charlie

I think Jeff did an excellent job. It was clear that he empathized with Charlie and did his best to represent him well. From the early beginnings to his highest intellect, Jeff committed to the character and did his best to make the experience authentic. Can't ask for more than that. I'd definitely pick up another book he narrates.

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  1. I read this book years and years ago, but it still strikes a chord in me when I remember it. It is so bittersweet.

    1. That it is... I think it was a really great read. Something I wish I read in high school.