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Flowers for a Guinea Pig

May 15, 2011

So I finished Atwood earlier this week in search of something different.

I thought that would be a challenge. I have a lot of books, but I perceive many of them to be relatively similar. I started reading covers to decide what to read – my thought process (abridged):

“They loafed and drank and loved and stole, and lived the brave life with innocence and outrageous disregard for scruples..” (Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck)… sounds familiar, like a novel you read in a high school english course (which is probably where I got this edition years ago). Maybe some other time.

“…traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper…” (The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje)… maybe not just yet. I loved what I last read of yours (which is supposedly your worst novel)… but something about that feels like I already know where it is going.

“…Like so many others, Lev is on his way… changing British Society at this very moment…. a singular man with a vivid outsider’s vision… In his innocence, his courage and his ingenuity, he is perhaps Rose Tremain’s contemporary version of Candide.” (The Road Home by Rose Tremain) I love comparisons with iconic literary characters that I am not familiar with… but everything else seems so familiar. Listless. Plotless almost. Familiar.

“The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters; the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.” (Zeitoun by Dave Eggers) Well reviewed. I like what I have read of the authors (even want to revisit it). Still though, it seems almost too topical. And we all know that topical literature is only really important when it is no longer topical… maybe not. I just might read this one…

And then I reached to the top of an old shelf, to books whose papers have not been ruffled in years. Hello recommendations and borrowings from grandmother – it has been so long since we have spoken. And that is how I discovered Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

“This fascinating tale of a daring human experiment has been described as ‘a love triangle between two people,’ ‘a suspenseful, gripping story,’ and ‘a brilliant fantasy.’ It is all these things. It is one of the most strikingly original and engrossing novels of our time!”

It was written in the 1950s. I didn’t know what to expect. The cover told me nothing. I had heard nothing of it other than that it should be read. So I opened up my 45 year old edition and started reading the aged text on the yellow paper.

“progris riport 1 martch 3

Dr Strauss says I should rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont no why but he sais its importint so they will see if they can use me. I hope they use me becaus Miss Kinnian says mabye they can make me smart.”

I was intrigued. And read further. And further. I wasn’t hooked by the writing, but I was intrigued by the story. And I figured out very quickly why it is that I had heard nothing about this novel’s story – the plot reveals itself early on. Mostly. And it is difficult to explain part of it without giving the majority of the book away.

And I don’t want to give anything away.

I just finished the novel though, and I am thoroughly impressed. One of the best works I’ve read? Not at all. But still a fantastic novel. That perhaps, just perhaps, deserves to be in high school curriculum far more than something like Tortilla Flats.

More on it next time. I want to go read some more War and Peace, and I need to get ready for my next book (oh, where to go?).

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