Flowers and Stars for Algernon

If you enjoy the musical stylings of Sting (and who doesn’t?), you might enjoy Richard Powers’ Bewilderment. It’s creative, intelligent, and pretentious. Everything you want in a good pop song.

The story follows a father and son, Robin, as they cope with the recent death of Robin’s mother. The father is an astronomer. Robin is 9 years old and diagnosed as being on the spectrum – a vague assessment that is less than helpful because, as his father points out, “everyone alive on this fluke little planet was on the spectrum. That’s what a spectrum is.” At any rate Robin is extremely sensitive to everything and has difficulty relating to his “normal” classmates – so they torment him.

To help re-wire his brain, he is enrolled in an experimental but promising neurofeedback program, which works wonders until a nefarious orange-haired politician spitefully cuts off the funding. Robin begins to revert with devastating consequences. It only sounds like a 2021 version of Flowers for Algernon because it is.

The novel works best when it focuses on astronomy and the search for unknown (to us) planets throughout the universe. “The laws that govern the light from a firefly in my backyard . . . also govern the light emitted from an exploding star one billion light years away . . . One set of rules runs the game, in all times and places.” In language accessible to a layperson, the novel discusses scientific matters, such as the Fermi Paradox, which (to paraphrase) states: if the universe favors life (and science indicates it does) then, given all the universe’s time and space, why does it seem no one is out there. These sections are fascinating.

However, the novel gets bogged down when the discussion returns to Earth. The parallels to Flowers for Algernon are obvious, and the reader has a fairly good grasp of where the novel is headed from the beginning. The references to the Trump presidency are strident. Mr. Powers is not a fan. He is angry but so are a lot of people, and he does not bring anything new or all that interesting to the conversation. The novel succeeds when it explores the universe – just not that portion pertaining to Earth.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Pardon Me

I am Titmouse Beak . . . but you all know that . . . your president . . . probably the greatest president ever . . . of Pungent Sound Community Bank . . . it’s astounding news I bring, I am running in the 2024 election of the Sexiest Person . . . you know how sexy I am – no one sexier . . . maybe Beyonce . . . probably not . . . in the World, which includes wherever it is you live . . . Please don’t tell me. I don’t care.

If you vote for me, I promise to pardon any penalties or late fees . . . so awful, so tough for you average people . . . so unfair . . . you have incurred on any debt owed to Pungent Sound Community Bank . . . prior to January 21, 2021.

Tengo Leche: Why wait? Can’t you just do that now.

Yes, but that’s not how promises work . . . not really, because the bank’s board . . . it is really the worst board ever . . . so disappointing . . . they hate capitalism . . . such a great a system, so fair to everyone . . . the board voted your president out of office effective January 21, 2021 . . . such a sad day . . . people on rooftops crying . . . beautiful big fat tears . . . like huge boobs . . . so beautiful . . . I counted all the votes, and all the votes I counted were for me . . . fraudulent board, so sad . . . I won by a landslide, a beautiful landslide . . . you should have seen how beautiful.

Tengo Leche: Why didn’t you just pardon all those borrowers back in January – like on January 19, 2021. When you had the power to do so?

I was going to . . . so close . . . I really was . . . my presidential pen was in my hand . . . I was playing with it . . . so much fun . . . in my hand . . . which are big, folks – big hands . . . no problems down there, my friends, trust me . . . Manicures are beautiful . . . everyone should get them . . . Sexy . . . 2024 Sexiest Person Who Has Ever Lived . . . Vote often.

Tengo Leche: But if you do pardon them in 2024, won’t it be too late? Your borrowers will have paid all those late fees and penalties by then or their homes will be foreclosed on and their cars repossessed?

No, no. Never too late . . . And, you know . . . the board was very mean to me . . . your president . . . very mean . . . Made me charge those late fees and penalties . . . that’s funny . . . How would fees know if they’re late? . . . They have no watches . . . Can’t tell time . . . but I don’t pay late fees . . . never . . . only suckers and losers do that . . . So should they be pardoned? . . . I don’t know. Maybe not . . . Perhaps I’m too nice . . . And beautiful . . . They’re not beautiful . . . But sexy is beautiful. 2024. Sexiest Person in Uranus . . . Vote often.