Outside Looking In
A provocative new novel from bestselling author T.C. Boyle exploring the first scientific and recreational forays into LSD and its mind-altering possibilities In this stirring and insightful novel, T.C. Boyle takes us back to the 1960s and to the early days of a drug whose effects have reverberated widely throughout our culture: LSD.
In 1943, LSD is synthesized in Basel. Two decades later, a coterie of grad students at Harvard are gradually drawn into the inner circle of renowned psychologist and psychedelic drug enthusiast Timothy Leary. Fitzhugh Loney, a psychology Ph.D. student and his wife, Joanie, become entranced by the drug’s possibilities such that their “research” becomes less a matter of clinical trials and academic papers and instead turns into a free-wheeling exploration of mind expansion, group dynamics, and communal living. With his trademark humor and pathos, Boyle moves us through the Loneys’ initiation at one of Leary’s parties to his notorious summer seminars in Zihuatanejo until the Loneys’ eventual expulsion from Harvard and their introduction to a communal arrangement of thirty devotees—students, wives, and children—living together in a sixty-four room mansion and devoting themselves to all kinds of experimentation and questioning.
Is LSD a belief system? Does it allow you to see God? Can the Loneys’ marriage—or any marriage, for that matter—survive the chaotic and sometimes orgiastic use of psychedelic drugs? Wry, witty, and wise, Outside Looking In is an ideal subject for this American master, and highlights Boyle’s acrobatic prose, detailed plots, and big ideas. It’s an utterly engaging and occasionally trippy look at the nature of reality, identity, and consciousness, as well as our seemingly infinite capacities for creativity, re-invention, and self-discovery.
Boyle (The Terranauts) returns with a satisfying, if overlong take on Timothy Leary's LSD studies from the early 1960s. After a brief explanation of LSD's discovery in a Swiss laboratory in 1943, the novel leaps forward to center on Fitz Loney, a Harvard psychology graduate student, and his wife, Joanie, in 1962. They join Harvard professor Leary's inner circle of hallucinogenic test subjects and researchers who are working to develop therapeutic methods of employing the drug. To avoid employer interference, Leary relocates his study to Mexico. Fitz and Joanie tag along, frequently trip, and sexually experiment with others, but caught in the middle is the couple's teenage son, Corey, who gradually isolates himself from his parents. After Harvard fires Leary, he moves his group to an estate in Upstate New York, where Fitz theoretically works on his thesis while Joanie loses faith in the cause; she and Fitz drift apart, and Corey realizes his own rebellious nature. While early chapters set the scene, the real ride begins when the scientific evaluations wane and the characters give themselves over to the drug. Though it takes its time hitting its stride, Boyle's novel picks up momentum and is an evocative depiction of the early days of LSD.
Slow Build but Powerful
I felt like some of the ground work was slow to build, but as usual it was written with powerful and delectable words and sentence structure thy draws you in. I could step in to this world that is so unlike my own. And when I read the last page, I literally let out a gasp and exhale. So expectedly unexpected. A statement about life and humanity.
If you’ve enjoyed any other books by T.C. Boyle, you’ll love this.