Sunday, August 05, 2007

the last book I read

The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle.

You'll recall (if you've been paying attention) that I read a Boyle not so long ago - well, I was in an Oxfam shop shortly after that and I spotted this one, so I snapped it up.

In a nutshell, this is (like Riven Rock) a story based on true events, though in this case they're much more famous true events: the sex research of Alfred Kinsey, culminating in the publication of the celebrated (and notorious) Kinsey reports of 1948 and 1953.

The novel's (fictional) protagonist is John Milk, who is recruited to Kinsey's staff at the University of Indiana. Milk assists Kinsey with his early gathering of sexual histories, and is welcomed into Kinsey's trust (the "inner circle", if you will) to a slightly greater extent than you might imagine, specifically, to the extent of having sex with Kinsey's wife, Mac. Meanwhile Milk is conducting his own fledgling romance with Iris, a sparky and independent-minded woman who becomes Mrs. Milk.

As the volume of work increases more staff are recruited to the project, and they and their wives add further layers of complication to the sexual free-for-all that develops among the staff. Kinsey himself encourages this; as the project progresses its activities widen to the making of "educational" films and more abandoned sexual profligacy among the staff. This inevitably causes conflict with Iris's sceptical views about the whole project and the birth of the Milks' first child.

It's all highly readable, and - hey! - it is, to a large extent, about sex, so it's never going to be not interesting,'s hampered by a fairly unsympathetic central character who is too in awe of Kinsey to resist his barmier urges, and it doesn't really go anywhere much. Boyle writes highly entertainingly, but I would say this isn't as good as Riven Rock. Apparently Drop City and The Tortilla Curtain are the ones, so I'll keep 'em peeled in the second-hand shops.

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