A journey of self that is both compelling and crushing in its introspection.
Charly Gordon is a middle-aged, mentally-challenged man who has been selected as a test subject for the first human to undergo a procedure that will significantly increase intelligence. Algernon is the mouse whom the scientists have previously had success with.
The author tells this story in epistolary fashion through journal entries written by the protagonist. The actual words themselves become a literary device as the reader van visually see the protagonist change and grow through the spelling, grammar, word choice and sentence structure written on the pages. Keyes does a good job of using this technique for effect without coming across as overwrought.
The journey of self-realization takes the protagonist from a place of vulnerability to one of power, where he rediscovers his own vulnerability in new and different ways. Charly starts out as a positive and endearing character who is eager to please and to learn. When he is tapped by the scientists to take his learning growth to unprecedented levels there are emotional consequences and costs for such rapid changes. Charly is forced to examine his past and everything he thought he knew about the world. He finds darkness behind the light and does not like what he sees.
He also struggles with the subtleties of life when negotiating relationships with others. Charly’s intelligence ends up driving a wedge between him and others. He ends up feeling more alone the more he progresses. Despite his new found wisdom, he lacks the experiences of a lifetime of living at this new level within which to put context to all he is learning. He is a fish out of water.
Charly has both loving and strained relationships with women that bring confusion and challenges. He also questions all his old friendships and loyalties. Keyes’ storytelling is superior in this respect because he negotiates the gray areas very well. With his new minds’ eye Charly looks to focus things into simple black and white issues, but this is not so easy. Certainly the characters in this story have various selfish or at times, down right mean, motives. However, the author strays away from painting the picture of some great evil overlord that must be slain. The nuances of the character’s motives are much more complex.
The strength of the story is here. Looking through Charly’s eyes as his perspective shifts and he tries to understand the complexity of living in a society where he wants to belong, but also feels completely isolated within.
Overall, this is a great read in exploring interpersonal relationships in a heightened reality that does not feel very different from our own. A poignant tale.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: "No Deodorant In Outer Space". The podcast is available on iTunes, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).