cover image THE INNER CIRCLE


T. Coraghessan Boyle, . . Viking, $25.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03344-7

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THE INNER CIRCLE T.C. Boyle . Viking , $25.95 (432p) ISBN 0-670-03344-8

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. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Sept. 13)

Forecast : Boyle's novels are like catnip to his fans, and the October release of a film starring Liam Neeson as Kinsey will undoubtedly bring new readers into his literary orbit. Twelve-city author tour .