Review: ‘Outside Looking In,’ by T.C. Boyle

"Outside Looking In" by T.C. Boyle; Ecco (385 pages, $27.99)

A family opts to give up everything to move into Timothy Leary's LSD-taking commune: What could possibly go wrong? "Everything" is the obvious answer, and it does in Boyle's fact-inspired novel that, after a brief prelude about the first synthesizing of LSD in Switzerland, takes place in the early '60s as the prophet of acid lures Harvard colleagues into his experiment in consciousness-raising and group dynamics.

It's a "Great Gatsby" story, really, with Leary as the remote but charismatic figure who carelessly draws others into his orbit and the Loney family – doctoral candidate Fitz, librarian wife Joanie and son Corey – as Nick Carraway, dazzled by the possibilities that will doom then. Boyle's timing is good, with microdosing still a hot topic. But, since his is a "Gatsby" story, there's only one way this can go. And, with his numerous, dull attempts to visualize the LSD trips that Michael Pollan has recently told us are indescribable and his near-total lack of interest in anything about women except their physical appearances, Boyle hasn't figured out how to make these dopes' grim journey compelling.