“Flowers for Algernon”
“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?”
Thus the focus of the story is on Charly or Charlie undergoing an experimental procedure that gives him intelligence for the first time in his life. The book discusses what happens to him during this time period and discusses what happens afterwards as well.
“Flowers for Algernon” was originally a short story, but was expanded due to its increasing popularity and it being made into a film. The novel was also successful. It was a book that I had been recommended several times over on Twitter and also knew that many people had read it during their school years. I wanted to read this book because of this. I have discussed before on the blog how I did not get the opportunity to read a lot of books that others did. This was me starting to read some of those books that I never had the opportunity to read. I started with it for this “project” based on the fact that I knew somewhat about the content and I wondered how you stretch that premise into a complete novel. I also started with it because I felt that once I completed it, I would be comfortable taking it off my shelves and never having to read it ever again.
I went into this book expecting to like it based on other’s excitement of me reading it. Several people messaged or responded to tweets while reading it saying basically how I was going to enjoy this story. The sad truth is I did not enjoy this book very much. As it progressed I found myself getting more and more frustrated with the main character, Charlie Gordon. We were seeing the story only through his eyes and as he progressed further into his intelligence I found myself disconnecting from the overall plot and his dilemma. I found myself just not caring if he would stay “smart” or not.
Part of my issue with this story was that outside of the main character there was a lack of character development for many of the other side characters. This was especially problematic in the case of his first “girlfriend” Alice. She seemed to just go along with liking Charlie, regardless of how he treated her. It was even more troubling for me as this was someone that was his teacher before the experiment. I felt like she was interested in her student and could not remove that status from Charlie, even after he started getting smarter and was not going to the school she taught at anymore. He was still a student that she had helped. Also the way she is treated by Charlie, as if her emotions do not matter, was especially troubling as she seemed like almost a battered woman staying with a man that beat her constantly. I know I am drawing a large comparison, but that is how it felt for me, as the reader of this book. The other characters seemed to only be minorly developed as well and the doctors conducting the experiment were about the only characters, outside of Charlie, that I understood their motivations (to gain notoriety in the science community).
Another aspect of this book that was troubling for me was that we had a sudden shift in the story. Charlie has a life-changing moment and it results in him getting an apartment. We are suddenly thrust into a new aspect of the story when we meet his next door neighbor, Fay Lillman, and his new apartment life. It was a complete 180° from what had come before and it made my head spin. Suddenly, we had to follow him on this weird new journey he was on that seemed out of place. It felt very much that it was forced into the book for added material, which makes sense since it was expanded from a short story, thus it really did have to have added material to it. It just did not sit well with me though. It felt like I was reading a completely different story from that point on and I started to find myself wishing I hadn’t even started this book.
I know I am sounding pretty critical of this book because of how I felt reading it, but the reality is I am being honest about how I felt while reading this book. I also never had the opportunity to read this at a time that it may have been more profound or connected with me differently than it did in my adulthood. The experience of reading is very subjective. My experiences with this book may not be your experience, as a reader. That is the beauty of reading a book, even a book considered a must-read or classic like this one. This book made me recognize that while I missed out on some books, that this does not mean that I am going to instantly connect with them now as I am older and have different experiences from when many of these types of books were assigned reading in schools. I will still be reading some of these classics and other books that are from school reading lists, but I recognize now that it is perfectly fine if I do not like these books and instantly remove them from my own physical shelves.
While I did not connect with this book, I can still see why others may enjoy it. The story has some aspects to it that could get someone to question themselves about their own level of happiness and accepting where they are at in their own life. The take-away for me was that sometimes it is better to live in your oblivion than to gain more knowledge that may change your entire world, sometimes not for the better. This can be a profound message for an individual that is younger and still in their formative years. I see the value for others, but not for me at this time of my life.
As mentioned, and you can see it on the cover as well, this was made into a motion picture. I have a sense that I may have watched the movie back in school, for some reason. It seems familiar, but I am not 100% on this. The film was entitled “Charly” and the movie poster looked like this:
As I was looking for this poster I stumbled across the fact that they also did another movie, starring Matthew Modine (Season 1 of Stranger Things actor):
So if you are fan of the book, you may want to see if you can find these movies to watch.