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Outside Looking In

A Novel
Narrated by: Johnathan McClain
Length: 14 hrs and 23 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (28 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A provocative new novel from best-selling 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 PhD 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 freewheeling 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 30 devotees - students, wives, and children - living together in a 64-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, reinvention, and self-discovery.

©2019 T.C. Boyle (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

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STORYTELLING AS CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING

T.C. Boyle, author of sixteen novels and more than a hundred stories, is perhaps best known for his vivid literary novels of such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright ("The Women"), Alfred Kinsey ("The Inner Circle"), and John Harvey Kellogg ("The Road to Wellville"). Now he turns his sights on the influence of Timothy Leary in a specific time period, the early sixties—when Leary taught at Harvard and just afterwards.

Leary quickly became known for his use of, pleasures with, and insights into LSD. He first tried to study its benefits for psychological therapy at Harvard, but his contract was not renewed after his personal involvement with the drug along with his graduate students.

From there, the novel chronicles his time with his inner circle of graduate students, Richard Alpert (who later became Ram Dass) and their families in a beachside hotel in Mexico, where he exhorts the regular use of LSD, “the sacrament,” to see if they can create a utopian and communal society. It helped that housekeepers and cooks took care of the basic necessities while the more privileged cavorted and swapped spouses, and the children roamed freely.

When the Mexican government had them deported because of all the negative publicity, Leary managed to set-up their communal shop in a 2400-acre estate in Millbrook, New York, where the main house featured over sixty rooms. It was thanks to the generosity of a young heiress, Peggy Hitchcock, who was in love with him.

Much of the novel takes place here, following graduate student Fitz, his wife Joanie, and their son Cory. In two sections of the book, we’re close with Fitz, and in a middle section, we’re with Joanie. We get a balance how hallucinogens, communal living, gender differences, and Tim’s self-serving and free-wheeling spirit and easy smile don’t necessarily take people to a new level of love or insight.

The book is read by Jonathan McClain, who does a great job in distinguishing all the voices, male and female, young and old. Boyle is known as a brilliant reader of his own work, and I heard Boyle read part of the book on National Public Radio--fabulous. McClain is different but also compelling.

This is an important book. People of Boyle’s generation and just younger were influenced by LSD, even if they never took it. Music, literature, filmmaking, and so much of the culture of psychedelics led to produce the Woodstock generation. Leary promoted “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” "Outside Looking In" gives us pause to consider how much was gained and lost by Leary, whom people trusted, but his hedonism and constant self-promotion also made him seem a countercultural used car salesman.

I came to know Timothy Leary personally in the eighties—he was an utterly charming man. Leary was finding the personal computer as the new way into consciousness, and I worked as the senior editor at Prelude Press, one of the first computer book publishers. We were stationed conveniently down the hill from Laurel Canyon where Leary, his wife Barbara, and their son Zach lived. Author Boyle and reader McClain captured Leary’s personality well—a charming, well-meaning man who unfortunately cracked apart many lives with the idea that mind-altering drugs could bust open a stagnant society. LSD helped—or at least didn’t hurt—some people, while others, such as the many of the graduate-student characters in this book, lost their foothold on living a meaningful life.

This novel makes you think – something Leary strived to help people do. Fiction may be a better way to truth.