Thumbs up for Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Science fiction.
I saw this mentioned recently in an online discussion of “most tearjerking scifi novels” and I confess, my curiosity was piqued enough to move it to the top of my to-read queue, since scifi isn’t something I generally associate with tearjerking. Well, I didn’t cry (but I rarely do); rather, what I felt about this book after finishing it was a joyous awe at having read a work of genius. Just the idea itself is daring: the first-person main character changes intelligence from page to page. And that concept is movingly fleshed out with inspiration and skill, especially in Keyes’s awareness of when to fulfill the reader’s expectations and when to bilk them. I particularly liked the women characters, who, even though seen only through Charlie’s eyes, nevertheless manage to transcend in small ways the predictable stereotypes of the perfectly selfless/selfish (pick one) love interest, the abusive mother, the hateful sister. (And imagine introducing Fay halfway through – lovely!)
“The walls between people are thin here, and if I listen quietly, I hear what is going on. Greenwich Village is like that too. Not just being close – because I don’t feel it in a crowded elevator or on the subway during the rush – but on a hot night when everyone is out walking, or sitting in the theater, there is a rustling, and for a moment I brush against someone and sense the connection between the branch and trunk and the deep root. At such moments my flesh is thin and tight, and the unbearable hunger to be part of it drives me out to search in the dark corners and blind alleys of the night.”
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