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Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Orion Millennium, 216 pages

Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Daniel Keyes was born in New York. He joined the U.S. Maritime Service at 17 and went to sea as ship's purser. He worked as an associate fiction editor, in the fashion photography business and then went back to school to become a teacher. He joined the faculty of Ohio University in 1966, was appointed Professor of English and Creative Writing. His first novel was Flowers for Algernon which has never been out of print. Cliff Robertson won an Oscar for his performance in the movie version, Charly. Keyes is the author of 3 other novels: The Touch, The Fifth Sally and Until Death. He has also written non-fiction books. He lives in Southern Florida.

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A review by Stephen M. Davis

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There is, of course, little that I can say about this masterful novel that hasn't already been said. It is a pleasure to read a work that is part of the genre of science fiction, but that doesn't use the category as an excuse for sloppy writing or hack-work.

Charlie Gordon is a retarded worker in a bakery, who sweeps floors, acts as the butt for other's jokes, and struggles to learn to read under the guidance of Alice Kinnian. His situation takes a dramatic turn when he undergoes brain surgery designed to help reorder his brain tissue and to grant him intelligence.

Mr. Keyes does a skillful job of showing us Charlie's meteoric rise from retardation to universal genius, and his tragic return to his original state. What we see along the way is that intelligence without compassion is fruitless. We also get what feels like a very realistic portrayal of the psychological growth of someone who gets a kind of accelerated childhood, in which a grown man discovers through psychotherapy and his own dawning intelligence that he is filled with repressed impulses and half-understood memories of major import to his own mental well-being.

Charlie must struggle with feelings of love for his former teacher, with his sense of abandonment at the hands of his mother, and with his anger towards a sister who committed seemingly senseless acts of cruelty against Charlie in their childhood.

At the end, the reader will have to decide if Charlie is better off than he was at the beginning of the book, and if being a genius was ultimately worth something of permanent value to him.

Copyright © 2000 Stephen M. Davis

Steve Davis teaches at the University of New Orleans as an Instructor of English. He enjoys chess, strong black coffee, and books by authors who care enough to work at their craft.


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