My book club recently read “Flowers for Algernon” and while I am CERTAIN I read it in high school, I enjoyed it as though I were reading it for the very first time. It felt like I WAS reading it for the very first time. I guess that proves it’s hard to retain things you read a very long time ago.
This book was published as a short story in 1958 and then as a novel in 1966 and tells the story of Charlie a young man with an IQ of 68 who is selected for an increased intelligence surgery. It is told in the first person in a series of “progress reports” written by Charlie.
In the beginning Charlie’s spelling and grammer are poor but he comes across as a caring young man. Charlie agrees to the surgery because he wants to be smart and have a lot of friends who like him. At one point one of the doctors tells Charlie he has “good motor-vation and not everybody with an eye-Q of 68 has that.”
But as Charlie’s intelligence increases his personality changes and he becomes suspicious and sullen. He realizes that he has been laughed at and taken advantage of and he becomes angrier and angrier. He ends up losing his job at the bakery and when he tries to find his family and is disappointed with the results of his search. At one point one of his doctors says to Charlie “you developed from a likable retarded young man to an arrogant self centered antisocial bastard.” Nice.
This is not necessarily an uplifting book but it is well written, entertaining and has a lot of very good book discussion questions. For example: At what length would you go to achieve extraordinary intelligence?
I am glad I read it and I am sure it will make for a lively book group discussion. Pick this one if you want to read a classic book guaranteed to generate a good chat.