Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Outside Looking In

In Outside Looking In, the prolific T.C. Boyle follows up his previous novel, The Terranauts, by continuing to probe the intimate lives of those who aim to see god. Fitzhugh Loney, a psychology graduate student at Harvard in the 1960s, is pulled into the orbit of Timothy Leary, a prominent psychologist experimenting with a new drug. Fitz and his wife, Joanie, begin to engage in Tim's "sessions"--parties filled with self-important academics who take LSD and record their experiences. Soon, Fitz's desire to be on the inside of these cutting-edge academic circles becomes a self-imposed exile as he and his colleagues are expelled from Harvard and form their own cult-like community in a mansion. While Joanie's high begins to fade, Fitz's is just getting started.

Boyle's writing remains crisp and restrained in this novel, despite its ecstatic and elastic subject matter. As Joanie and Fitz tumble further into a world of dazzlingly depicted sensations and pounding emotions, Boyle's prose remains on firm ground, serving as the sober guide to the reader that his characters so sorely need. Despite this even-handed narrative style, Outside Looking In manages to build dizzying tension as its characters sink deeper and deeper into a world that is portrayed as both astonishing and increasingly nauseating. By the end, readers, like Joanie, are eager to get off the roller-coaster ride of 1960s obsession and detritus, if only to stand back and admire the larger desires and fears that drove it in the first place. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor