Sunday, April 7, 2019

Outside Looking In

Outside Looking In by T. C. Boyle
HarperCollins: 4/9/19
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062882981

Outside Looking In by T. C. Boyle is a very highly recommended look at early psychedelic experimentation in the 1960's.

LSD was first synthesized in BaselIn, Switzerland in 1943, as covered in the prelude. The novel then advances to 1962-1964 and introduces Fitzhugh (Fitz) Loney, a psychology Ph.D. student at Harvard. When his advisor, Tim, invites Fitz and his wife, Joanie, to attend a Saturday night research session at his home, they are nervous, but accept. Tim and his inner circle are taking psilocybin mushrooms to see if they could be used in a therapeutic treatment program. Soon, Tim and the group begin to take LSD for research purposes. Fitz and Joanie are not completely entrenched in the group at first, but that changes when Tim rents a resort in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, invites the whole research group to join him, starting the idea of communal living, and begins to offer summer seminars. Fitz and Joanie go to Mexico, taking Corey, their teenage son along.

As the research becomes less scientific, Tim loses his position at Harvard, but rents a sixty-four room mansion in Millbrook, NY, for the group. There they will practice communal living and offer seminars to other interested parties. As experimentation and rampant drug usage ensues, all ideas of academic papers and scientific trials are set aside. Fitz, who was going to work on his PhD thesis at Millbrook, instead loses focus, and his family begins to disintegrate.

Outside Looking In is thoroughly engrossing and I was totally entrenched in the narrative. Even if you know where it is heading, Boyle has presented a fascinating insight into Leary's perspective through the viewpoint of Fitz and Joanie as they enter his inner circle. The writing is excellent in the detailed plot, capturing the times and the flawed personalities involved without resorting to stereotypical descriptions. The narrative follows the actions of the characters and their experiences, while allowing the reader to make deductions about the ethics or any overarching morality themes.
The character of Fitz is well developed and the reader can clearly follow the change in him as he moves further into Tim's inner circle and increases his experimentation. That is not to imply that he is predictable. He does slowly go through a transition, as does Joanie. No judgement is made on their integrity or transitions. The narrative follows the action and the judgements and  conclusions are left to the reader. It is a small slice of a small group of people during an interesting time in history. This novel captures a time, a juncture in history, and the implication of the cultural impact to come.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

No comments: