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Outside Looking In  By  cover art

Outside Looking In

By: T. C. Boyle
Narrated by: Johnathan McClain
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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.

9 people found this helpful

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masterpiece

400 years from now, they'll be studying TC Boyle alongside Shakespeare in literature classes.

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Very interesting story and well performed

I recently listened to Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Coolaid Acid Test” about the use of acid in the 1960s in California featuring Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. “Outside Looking In” tells a similar story but focuses on the east coast and Timothy Leary’s group. There is a small overlap, in one scene, between the stories which I was delighted by. “Outside Looking In” is a great story and the performance is excellent. Highly recommended.

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If you like counter culture books, skip this one

I’m not much of a critic but I feel the need to warn others. I got this audiobook expecting something like drug misadventures of Hunter Thompson, or drunken low lives of Charles Bukowski, heck even a cultish frenzy like Chuck Palahniuk. But this book did not deliver. Not to compare apples to oranges but T. C. Boyle seems to look down upon drug use in a way that just feels obviously condescending. And sure maybe drug use should not be glorified but at least make the journey fun. I felt no connection with any of the characters and I had to crank the audio speed to double just to rush to the end. The dialogue was almost unbearable. It reminded me of the boss from Office Space but not funny at all and it made me want to roll my eyes several times. But if you want to tell someone that you are against their drug use and that anyone who tries LSD will drop out of school and join a boring cult, recommend this one.

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Vivid evocation

While the novel was a bit bloated and repetitive, I did get immersed in learning more about Timothy Leary and that whole time. It was ultimately such a sad story of the unraveling that came along with the idealism.

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narrator

sounds like a robot. too many audible books have robot sounding narrators. what is going on?

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Leery of Timothy

The performance is top notch.
The writing is better than most.
The humans are so utterly vile.
The last line seems to have been the premise for the entire book.

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Disappointing and full of unlikeable characters

To my surprise, I discovered that I've never read any T. C. Boyle before. His name always present somehow - and yet, as it turns out when I look through the list of his novels, I really don't know his work. With this said, I can only imagine that I picked up one of his lesser works - Outside Looking In really didn't work for me.

The novel sure as hell should be a trip, a wild and mind-bending ride, as it is all about LSD. It starts with Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann and his discovery of LSD and its psychedelic effects. Then the story jumps forward some twenty years to Timothy Leary and his LSD research. What happens, unfortunately, is in no way thrilling, or suspenseful - heck, not even particularly interesting. Might as well have read a Wikipedia entry about Leary and and folks hanging out in Mexico and at Millbrook and slowly dissolving from research into counterculture freedom, drugs, sex and all ... unfortunately, it's just boring.

As for the two main characters ... are not even worth mentioning.

Finally, the performance was oddly off key.

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What a collection of unlikeable characters

Boyle is one of my favorite authors but I’m 2/3 of the way through this book and have yet to find a redeeming quality in any of the characters. They’re all a bunch of spoiled, privileged, hedonistic children, enjoying a self-indulgent life free of responsibility and pretending it’s “research.” If that’s the author’s take on the psychedelic’60s, fair enough. Not what I expected from T.C. Boyle though.

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There's always a guru. Psychedelics revisited.

Perhaps a dozen "names" thrived directly as a result of the early use (and abuse) of psychedelics. TC Boyle writes eloquently about Leary's charisma and the early scene. This fixation otherwise very intelligent people had upon "seeing God" drove some to lose themselves completely. Some of the new age scams that evolved from Millbrook persist today. TC Boyle presents the absurd, funny, tragic and mundane beautifully. The straightforward style of narration seems perfect for this book.

What's important to note: we've learned judicious use of psychedelics ARE therapeutic. Micro doses of psilocybin are very helpful for people with depression. MMDA has been found to be lifesaving for people with PTSD. Guided and judicious use of drugs like LSD are useful and important. What we don't need are charismatic gurus, or worse - the Carlos Castaneda books convincing people to seek out mystical Indigenous healers and, when they don't find them, take hideous and sometimes deadly trips on lethal jimson weed. (Anything to earn a $ and fame.)