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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-20 02:50
I Don't Know If It Was Supposed To, But I Was Left Horrified
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

I'm a neurodiverse person and, while I have fantasized about understanding others with some scientific procedure, I've always said I wouldn't change my position for the world. This book solidifies it. Just as a heads up for anyone, I do use the "r" word in the following paragraph, and I cover a lot of ableism, so if those are triggers for you, I recommend proceeding with caution.

 

The ableism that occurred throughout the book really hit close to home. Despite my hyperlexia, I was often called "retard" as a kid because I was socially awkward, shy, and my maiden name rhymed with the word. Like Charlie, my world was very closed off for a long time because I never related to my peers; to this day, I mainly hang out with people old enough to be my grandparents instead of people my own age. I was told I would never be able to hack it at a four year institution (I eventually did, although many years later) and that I would be lucky to be able to live on my own. I beat the odds, but I still am highly deficient.

 

When Charlie discovered he was deteriorating back to his original intelligence, I found myself horrified. When I was growing up, my only friends were characters in books, and I can't imagine having that ripped away from me the way it was ripped away from Charlie. Even worse, to understand the deterioration and why it's happening is utterly frightening to me; I'm always terrified that I will lose my intelligence, the one thing I have going for me, in my mind, is my ability to read and understand the world around me despite my inability to understand others. 

 

I have relatives who died from Alzheimer's disease on my dad's side of the family, and I wonder if they ever had the moments of lucidity that Charlie experienced as he was slipping back into his original level of intelligence, knowing that they were slowly losing who they were and the memories of everyone around them.

 

 

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review 2018-05-08 12:51
3/5: Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, undergoes a radical procedure to bump his intelligence up to genius levels. Only intelligence isn’t all it cracks up to be…

At the start of the book, Charlie starts with the equivalent intelligence of a smart dog. He’s able to understand basic commands – sit, stay, fetch – but has no concept of yesterday or tomorrow or social relationships. He barely remember his parents. There’s no framework for his life apart from today.

Despite this, Charlie is content. You don’t get many fundamentally unhappy dogs, and it doesn’t take much for them to love you. All Charlie wants is for someone to show him some humanity and he’s happy.

And like dogs, some people kick them. Some people set them on fire and laugh while they bite themselves to put it out. I’ve never wanted to smack so many characters in the mouth and tell them to leave Charlie alone. He’s trying his best, damn it!

So many people are jerks in this book that Charlie’s arrogance when he becomes a genius feels semi-justified. He’s only learning from his peers.

When Charlie grows teeth and begins to bite back, his friends don’t like him anymore. The dog bites, take it back to the pound; it’s not amusing when it fights back. There’s an irony that Charlie’s later behaviour to others is the same way they treated him.

This is a book almost entirely about abuse. The doctors who worked on him regard him as a subject and not a human being. His fellow workers at the bakery taunt and tease him. Charlie’s mother threatened to stab him and slapped him when he wet himself or he got an involuntary erection.

Small wonder he can’t function emotionally. His emotional intelligence lacks far behind his intellectual intelligence, and he’s unable to consummate his female relationships except on a purely physical level. The main female characters are practically stereotypes: Miss Conservative and Miss Hussy. Miss Hussy seems to have walked in from Cabaret…I kept seeing her as a 1920s floozy Liza Minelli, not a 1960s liberated woman, which was probably the author’s intent. Although Miss Conservative seems to have no problem having a relationship with a former student. Ahh, the 60s!

And because this was written in the 60s, the terms for Charlie’s mental disability seem pejorative now: He’s a moron, he’s a retard. It belittles Charlie’s inherent kindness and the intelligence he does possess at the start of the story.

Sometimes in a book, you wish the characters were merely fictional. Like the men who abused Bernice, who will sleep with them for a pretty trinket and has three kids by the time she’s eighteen. Like Charlie’s ‘friends’ who think of nothing of kicking his legs out from under him when he falls asleep standing up.

In among all this abuse and degradation there are some sweet spots. The doctor who gives Charlie electro-shock seems compassionate, despite his eye on the dollar in Charlie’s father’s wallet. Burt, who tests Charlie and Algernon the mouse with patience and tolerance. And the entire facility of Warren Hill. Bright spots of the best of humanity on a dark stage.

The last few pages are heart-breaking to read. Only at the end before he slips into senility does Charlie come to his emotional maturity and learns humility isn’t such a bad trait after all. Finally, we can empathise and we can cry over his lost potential. Not just a smart man, but the good man he always was. There are glimpses of the poet and the eloquent man he could have been in his descriptions of New York and the people he meets.

It’s hard to rate this book. On the one hand, most of the people in it are absolute jerks, including Charlie, for most of the story. On the other, Daniel Keyes wrote a book which created characters so awful I wanted to punch them.

This isn’t a book I enjoyed reading. Seeing a character being bullied and abused is hard going. It’s probably a book I’ll never read again. But that doesn’t mean I regret reading it.

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review 2018-02-26 22:09
The Relation Between "Flowers for Algernon" and "All Summer in a Day"
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

        Desire, it controls us in many ways. It has even led people to go to war with each other for wanting land a power.  In “Flowers for Algernon” Charlie Gordon a 32 year old has a desire to become intelligent. He undergoes surgery to enhance his intelligence. In “All Summer in a Day” Margot’s classmates pick on her because they desire to see and feel the sun. In “All Summer in a Day” and “Flowers for Algernon” a possible theme is that desire leads us to do things whether we like it or not. 

        Desire has led Charlie to decide that he wants to undergo surgery. At the end of the story the outcome of all the trouble he went through to get smarter was that he would eventually lose it all again. “If the operashun works . . . Then Ill be abel to read better and spell the words good and know lots of things . . . I want to be smart like other people.” For all of Charlie’s life he felt dumb, he even knew that. He knew that he was different from other people. His desire was not only to become smart but to be like everyone else, in hope that he would make friends and not be alone anymore. At the end of “Flowers for Algernon” he is sad and he is falling apart. In that part he knows that the thing that would make him like everyone else and that allowed him to have friends would be taken away from him.

        In “All Summer in a Day” Margot’s classmates have longed to see the sun. Them living on Venus, the wet and gloomy sun deprived planet it being has led them to treat Margot poorly. “They surged about her, caught her up and bore her, protesting, and then pleading . . . tunnel, a room, a closet, where they slammed and locked the door. . . Then, smiling, they turned and went out and back down the tunnel, just as the teacher arrived.” They locked her in the closet right before the sun was going to come out. The one thing Margot had in common with her classmates was the longing of the sun’s rays. Like greedy human beings they took that away from her. Later they regretted it, “They could not meet each other’s glances. Their faces were solemn and pale.” the word solemn and pale show that they are filled with regret. When it was to be a day filled with the sun’s joyful laughter it ended up being a dreadful day for Margot.

        Emotion such as desire have a huge hold on people, whether later we can then realize it was wrong it would be too late. Overall desire having an huge say and impact on what we do or say is a possible theme for “Flowers for Algernon” and “All Summer in a Day”.

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text 2018-01-06 17:14
Finally finished Flowers for Algernon. Going to be a difficult review.
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

It's taken me...15 months to read this book. Mostly because I only read my ebooks when I literally have no other book available: in shopping lines, surreptitiously in meetings, anywhere I didn't anticipate getting stuck without a book. 

 

But wow, what a disappointment it was to read this one as an adult vs. what I remember of it as a teen. Anyway, I have tons of notes to parse through so it'll be a little while before I post a review. I'm just glad I'm done with it and can move on to another. 

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text 2017-12-19 12:35
Reading progress update: I've read 32 out of 311 pages.
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

Oh my god. This hurts like a bitch. I want to go inside the pages and trash everyone involved. Getting him drunk, humiliating him for sport, having him clean a bar bathroom and then abandoning him. Christ! I used to get angry at the good-for-nothing so-called-friends when we picked up abandoned drunk girls and drove them home, and this...

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