Flowers for Algernon (1966)
Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels (75)
This unbearably sad tale started out as a Hugo award winning short story, waslengthened into this Nebula winning novel & then was made into the 1968 movie Charly . Charlie Gordon, a retarded 32 year old with an IQ of 70, tells his story through journal entries. Because of the dedication that he shows to learning, Charlie is chosen to participate in an experiment on human intelligence. One of a battery of tests that he is given requires him to draw his way through a maze. He loses repeatedly to a mouse, Algernon, who has been given an intelligence boost similar to the one that Charlie will receive.
Once Charlie has an operation on his brain, his journal entries become more lucid, his spelling & grammar improve, & his understanding of the world around him increases. But while Charlie's intellect grows rapidly, his emotional intelligence can not keep pace. Because he doesn't really understand their feelings, he has enormous problems dealing with people, especially women. Also, Charlie is now able to bring his intellect to bear on dim memories from his childhood & youth. He begins to realize that family & friends were horribly cruel to him & to resent the way he is being used in this experiment. Eventually he comes to feel that he contains two Charlies--the current intelligent Charlie & the naive, retarded Charlie.
When the scientific team takes Charlie & Algernon to a conference to present the results of their work, Charlie frees Algernon from his cage & in the ensuing confusion, they escape. Living on his own, Charlie devises new tests for Algernon & studies the work that has been done on the two of them. He finds several flaws in the experimental procedure & notices that Algernon has begun to regress. He realizes that he too will begin to lose his intelligence and he races against the clock to complete his work. His journal entries gradually deteriorate, as the old Charlie returns.
Throughout, Charlie's story is emotionally wrenching &, by asking us to consider whether the original Charlie or the new Charlie is a better human being, Keyes raises many questions about intelligence, emotional intelligence & the human condition.
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