... we can feel Boyle’s censorious attitude pumping through these pages like a naloxone drip. That’s not to say that Outside Looking In is one long buzzkill, but it is a farce laced with tragedy: the story of a good man’s increasingly tortuous moral gymnastics ... There’s plenty of zany comedy here — including a poo-flinging monkey and a sombrero from which Leary picks the names of sex partners like some kind of libidinous predecessor of the sorting hat in 'Harry Potter.' The humor, though, is tempered by the damage that Leary wreaks on Fitz and his family ... This is a superbly paced novel that manages to feel simultaneously suspenseful and inevitable ... Yes, it’s a drag, man, but any enlightenment that comes from a pill isn’t worth having. Better to get high on a good book.
Although Boyle’s novel is set in the early 1960s, it feels fresh because there have not been so many LSD-centered works of literature ... ambitious in the sense that it provides a genealogy of the early days of LSD ... not simply about the joys of expanded consciousness; it also explores the unforeseen perils of liberation ... Much like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance, Boyle’s novel is an affectionate satire of the utopian impulse and psychedelic culture. Boyle’s representation of the LSD experience steers wide of sensationalism (his characters do not try to fly or jump out of five-story windows) ... offers a rejoinder to the slogans of the 1960s.
This novel is not, it must be said, full of surprises. As it turns out, constant drug use and free love may not be good for your marriage, family or academic career. If you’ve studied history — or if you’ve read other Boyle novels — you know well the arc of utopia ... the drug use of Boyle’s psychonauts seems, almost immediately, decadent and dull. The trips are amazing, but they don’t lead anywhere ... LSD does not radically alter Fitz’s sober perspective, at least not in an appealing way. Consequently, the novel’s trajectory is not pronounced, and the inevitable dissolution of the community is less compelling ... [Boyle] is a spirited downhill writer, capable of creating energy by virtue of his own pace and verve, and that is certainly the case here. This is not the best T. C. Boyle novel, but it’s without question a T. C. Boyle novel — kinetic, conceptual and keen. Moreover, when you take a step back from the book you can begin to appreciate that Boyle — much in the spirit of his quixotic and ambitious subjects — has now completed his own impressive public art project: a Mount Rushmore of American Fanatics.