Heartbreaking and thought provoking.
I'm fairly sure I saw the film adaptation of Flowers for Algernon with Matthew Modine when I was in my 20s so I had a general idea of the basis of the story: a man with an exceptionally low IQ undergoes an experiment, his IQ soares, crescendos and then descends rapidly.
However the book really explored a much more interesting aspect of the character development: as his IQ increases beyond the level of everyone around him, his emotional level and experience struggles to keep up, if at all.
As Charlie Gordon gets more and more access to his mind and recalls (and accounts) his childhood memories, we see how badly he was treated and how heartbreaking his childhood was. The book is as much a psychological exploration of his childhood as it is a sci-fi - and for that it makes for a really heartfelt story.
There is one, large, aspect that doesn't track. Bare with me because I know Keyes wrote the book was written in 1966 (based off his short story written in 1958), but Charlie's emotional feelings towards Alice (and women in general) doesn't quite make sense.
Charlie had severe learning disabilities. He struggled to understand a lot of context in the world around him and we know that he has an emotional of a child.
If a child, a boy in particular, were to, suddenly, today have their IQ accelerated, their behaviour towards women and girls wouldn't suddenly be that of an adult man. Specifically they wouldn't behave like the men that expect women to pay them attention, or expect women to be sexually available just because they engaged in conversation. This behaviour isn't part of men's DNA.
Yet Charlie's character behaves this way when his IQ jumps. And yes, I'm overthinking it, but the fun thing about reading a great sci-fi is that it lets me ask more interesting questions about my world. And yes, this is rather woke thing to bring up about a book!
On the flip side, something I loved about the book is when Charlie does go back into his memories, it made me ask the question: do we have the ability for 100% recall?
Is it possible that we all have photographic memories but the majority of us can't access that part of our mind. If we do have the ability, doesn't that suggest that memory recall, for the most minute detail, is entirely possible - even to recall the details in something that was in our peripheral vision some decades ago?
If we do indeed have this ability, assuming Charlie's operation can unlock this part of our mind, does this mean we can potentially time travel inside our mind as those recalled memories become so visceral that they become reality during that recall.
Very cool stuff.
Then within the sci-fi and the character study of Charlie's psyche, we have the heartbreaking story of his childhood and whether it's possible for forgiveness all those decades later. Beautiful stuff.
More on Goodreads