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The Inner Circle Paperback – August 30, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Released in the late 1940s and early '50s, the Kinsey Reports, the compilations of a scientific study that attempted to quantify male and female sexual behavior, shocked Americans with revelations about their sexuality. Indiana University professor Alfred Kinsey's obsessive belief that the human need for sex is little different from animal instinct, and his iconoclastic research methods (including voyeurism and personal interactions), make Kinsey (called "Prok" by students and intimates) a fitting subject for Boyle's (Drop City) irrepressible imagination. In this provocative fictional reconstruction of Kinsey's influence on sexual and societal mores, Boyle's narrator is John Milk, a naïve undergraduate at IU when he becomes Prok' s assistant, the first of the eventual "inner circle" of dedicated disciples. The irony and the drama of this mesmerizing novel lie in Milk's unquestioning acceptance of his idol's demands, and the gradual moral corruption that ensues from such occupational obligations as serving as Kinsey's partner in homosexual sex while also bedding Prok's compliant wife and eventually offering his own wife in group sex activities. Boyle's narrative brio accelerates as other members of the inner circle and their wives respond to Kinsey's manipulative charisma, while the professor's increasingly uninhibited and egotistical demands test the bonds of marital fidelity. If Milk's unwavering idealism begins to seem unlikely and his recognition of the spiritual emptiness of mechanistic sex and the damage to his marriage is a little late in coming, Boyle nonetheless maintains his mix of irony and emotional fidelity with buoyant wit. In the end, the novel can be read as a case study of the price paid by ordinary human beings when they become the apostles to men of genius.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Following his spirited counterculture drama Drop City (2003), Boyle fictionalizes a historical figure as he did in The Road to Wellville (1994), an unforgettable portrait of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, this time presenting an intrepid and astute interpretation of the revolutionary work and fanatic personality of sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey. A zoologist at Indiana University called Prok by his intimates, he is seen through the worshipful eyes of John Milk, a handsome, obedient, and clueless English major who becomes Prok's first disciple. Milk joins Prok in his prodigious effort to interview thousands of men and women about their sexual experiences as World War II rages, and Milk is both dedicated to the project and conflicted over Prok's attempt to control every aspect of his life, not to mention his insistence on their having sex. Milk is a meticulous and moody narrator, and Boyle has never written more ravishing and poignant descriptions than those depicting Milk's inner turmoil as reflected in Indiana's extreme weather and the tawdry settings in which they conduct their tricky research, which, as Prok becomes famous, grows increasingly voyeuristic and exhibitionistic. Adamantly clinical, Prok dismisses all sexually related emotions as products of uptight social conventions, but as Milk and his wife, Iris, the novel's moral compass, discover, there's no divorcing feelings from sexuality. Boyle's vision of Kinsey as both genius and cult leader is mesmerizing and chilling as he discerningly explores the consequences of a mechanistic view of humanity, and of signing one's life, and conscience, over to a zealot. Strong medicine from a phenomenally artistic, morally inquisitive, and unfailingly compassionate writer. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014303586X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143035862
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Douglas A. Greenberg VINE VOICE on November 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I look forward to each new novel by T.C. Boyle with great anticipation; he's a gadfly, an iconoclast who can weave a fascinating web of words filled with twists and turns and verbal pyrotechnics. He can be impishly cynical toward social idealism of all types, as clearly expressed in *The Tortilla Curtain* and *Drop City*, but he also can show a softer, more sympathetic side, as demonstrated in what I consider his finest novel overall, *Riven Rock*.

As always, Boyle has created a novel that's at the very least, a good read. I devoured this book, cover to cover, almost without stopping, which is a testament to Boyle's ability to write lucid, entertaining prose. There is a noticeably a less manic feel to his writing this time around, however, and it's unclear to me whether this was a deliberate strategy, based on the sensitive nature of his subject matter, or whether instead Boyle found his inspiration just a bit lacking.

The fact that *The Inner Circle* deals with Alfred Kinsey and his pioneering work on sex research certainly makes the novel all the more alluring and addictive, I confess. Assuming that Boyle has taken only minor liberties with the actual historical characters of Kinsey and his wife Clara, the book illuminates in excellent fashion the motives, mindset, and methods behind Kinsey's single-minded pursuit of his research. Boyle does (apparently) a fine job of depicting the character and personality of Kinsey, albeit from the virtually uncritical perspective of his narrator, the mild-mannered fictional research assistant, John Milk.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By H. Huggins on October 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book the day it came out, both because I had liked "Drop City" so well, and because, hey, a book about Kinsey and sex has to be somewhat interesting. I came away a bit disappointed. This book lacked a real focus. There were moments where this book seemed to make sense and actually managed to be enjoyable, but must of the time, it was rather cold and unlikable.

The character of Kinsey himself ("Prok") was far too flat. It was not clear to me what it was about him that drew his followers so deeply into his inner circle. For the same reasons, I disliked the protagonist, John Milk. Why he followed Kinsey so blindly at the expense of his marriage and happiness is a mystery. The book followed him through his emotional turmoil in a cyclical fashion, with the plot rehashing itself repeatedly with no growth on the part of any characters, with the exception perhaps of Iris, Milk's wife. But Boyle leaves her in the background, definitely a shame.

The plot of this book had promise. Kinsey was a fascinating man, and he conducted fascinating research. But Boyle describes the research and the accompanying sexual exploits in either an illusory manner (when it is homosexual sex being discussed, or 'H-behavior') or in a way that is far too medical and sterile to be anything but uncomfortable and boring.

Overall, I didn't dislike this book, I just kind of felt like I was reading to finish, instead of for the joy of the book. It's not a bad book, it's just nota very good one. Read "Drop City" instead to see what Boyle is really capable of.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By MICHAEL ACUNA on May 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Having seen the film, "Kinsey" before I began to read T.C. Boyle's "The Inner Circle" really helped me to fill in the visual component of Boyle's always fat and juicy prose.
Using the docu-fiction form, Boyle riffs on certain known facts of Kinsey's time at IU, his groundbreaking research and uses John Milk as his vehicle into that particular world that Kinsey created during his tenure at Indiana University as a professor of Biology and more importantly as a sex researcher and author.
Boyle writes of Milk's entrance into Kinsey-land: "That was the moment it all began, though I didn't realize it at the time...how could I? How could I have foreseen that a shallow, manipulative girl I hardly knew would be the motive force that was to lead me to Prok (Kinsey) and Mac (Kinsey's wife), Corcoran, Rutledge, to the desk at which I am now sitting..."
Boyle paints Kinsey as a kind of Machiavellian, all-knowing leader of his group of researchers and their families: "What he (Kinsey) wanted above all else was to gain the sort of intimacy that yields up confidences, and he had a true genius for it---for putting people at ease and bringing them out. Absent it, the project would have never gotten off the ground."
Kinsey is a warm, loving person who, as long as you do as he advises, would do anything for you. When Milk's wife, Iris has an affair with another researcher ("I knew why she'd done what she had...she'd had one man in her life, just one and I'd had Mac and Prok...") Kinsey at first is happy that she has acted out her fantasy. But when Iris decides to leave Milk and live with her lover, John... Kinsey intercedes and the whole situation is diffused.
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