Latest Boyle novel a wild ride
“Outside Looking In”
T.C. Boyle has always presented questionable heroes who live on the edge of society, yet somehow gather our sympathy. That’s because they’re realistic characters, people with whom we can relate, so we naturally feel their pain and anguish, and just like Boyle’s characters, we fall under this master storyteller’s spell.
“Outside Looking In,” Boyle’s latest novel that had an April release from Harper Ecco, is no different. In this wide-ranging epic, Boyle traces the adventures – and misadventures – of Fitzhugh Loney who falls under the influence of Timothy Leary, psychologist, and LSD advocate who made the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” synonymous with the drug culture of the 1960s.
Boyle starts his enthralling tale with the story of how LSD was first formulated in Basel, Switzerland, in the midst of World War II. He presents the intriguing story of Susi Ramstein, who forms a romantic attachment to Herr Albert Hofmann who perfected the drug.
Fast forward to Fitz Loney, Harvard PhD candidate and later Leary disciple. It would have been one thing had Loney been single and able to follow through with Leary’s questionable lifestyle experiments that accompanied his LSD “sacraments.” The only problem though is that Loney has a wife, Janie, and a son, Corey.
With the unending funding of Leary’s lover, the disciples follow him from a rented home they trash to Mexico and finally a mansion where Leary’s experiments with drugs and human relations test the bounds of Loney’s family as Loney forms an unsustainable fixation with Lori, a girl half his age.
Fitz asks fellow disciple Ken, “Where is this going? Is there any end in sight? Can we even call ourselves scientists anymore – or what are we, mystics? Partygoers? Bacchanalians?” Unfortunately, that’s a question Loney should have asked himself long before he put his marriage, his PhD thesis and his very career on the line.
“Outside Looking In” shares a similar theme with Boyle’s “The Inner Circle” and “Drop City” – sympathetic characters who skirt society’s edge – then fall off. Loney certainly does that, and we wonder why his wife seems willing to take him back, despite the anguish he has caused for her and Corey.
This is a masterful tale by a masterful storyteller, and a must-read for hardcore Boyle fans.
As well as being a bestselling novelist, Boyle is an accomplished academician. He received both his MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Iowa and is a Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Southern California – Santa Barbara.
(Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. His author page is amazon.com/author/michaeltidemann.)