Flowers for Algernon is one of those books that’s prominent enough in the world of books that everybody kind of knows what it’s about even if he hasn’t read it. And that knowledge of how things are going to turn out makes the book incredibly sad from the first page.
For those who haven’t heard of it, the plot goes like this: A retarded man named Charlie gets an experimental surgery that not only cures his retardation, but makes him a super genius. But (spoiler alert, and this is the sad part) the procedure is only temporary, and so we watch him go through the process of gaining knowledge and awareness that he could never imagine before, and then we go through the process of watching him lose it. The tragedy is amplified by the fact that, though before the operation he didn’t know what he was missing, after the operation he knows exactly what he’s losing.
Though I knew the basics of the story before, I never realized that it was a pretty explicit allegory for the fall of man from the Garden of Eden. A couple of characters even mention this in the book to foreshadow the kind of trouble that Charlie is getting into. Charlie tastes of the Tree of Knowledge, and his eyes are opened, but as a result he’s cast out, separated from the life he’s known and everyone he’s loved.
The author does a great job of telling the story entirely through Charlie’s journal entries, using that device to put us inside the character’s head throughout his journey. If you’re in the market for a melancholy read, this is a good one.