Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Humanizing the animal instinct

Book: The Inner Circle
Author: T.C. Boyle
Published: 2004 (Penguin)
Pages: 418

T.C. Boyle's fictional narrative about what became the Kinsey Institute is like the best kind of sex: propulsive, impulsive but quickly building its own set of interior logic as it goes along, and coupled with a passion for what it stands for. 

 It does two things I usually don't like in fiction, which are A. use the "narrator doesn't know why he's writing this reflection on the coincidentally most interesting bits of his life but, well, here you go" framework and B. exploit the learned emotional flourishes of the narrator's maturity to color his memories of his younger years. That usually feels like cheating to me.

 But while A. is still not 100% necessary in my humble opinion, here it at least sets up a believable situation, that of the narrator avoiding going to his mentor's funeral and choosing to get drunk and remember on paper instead.  And B. works really well. I don't have any better analysis than this time that approach actually matches the emotional timbre and scope of the story.

 And what a story! It's about this college kid who takes Professor Kinsey's "marriage" (sex ed) class to impress a girl who needs a "fiancĂ©" to take it herself, and how he ends up being Kinsey's very first assistant in the undergoing the massive survey of human sexuality that would make him famous, and how he meets a girl and falls in love and tries to keep their conventional coururtship/marriage/parenthood together while working outrageously long hours with a man who thinks sex is a biological urge to be satisfied as regularly and indiscriminately as eating.

 It's great. There's so much conflict between the spouses, the colleagues, society of the time, Kinsey's work ethic and his health - oh man. Four years ago I checked out the movie Kinsey from the library and watched about 2/3 of it before it stopped (disc scratches, y'all - if you can watch a movie all the way through from your public library, go hug their Film and Sound staff for all their hard work to keep it that way) but that was plenty of time to cement Liam Nielsen as the looming force of nature that was Prok (as they combined "Professor Kinsey" here) in my head, complete with his almost-basso profundo voice, and the narrator here is that rare everyman who grows in such believable increments you feel like you're going with him every step of the way, so I enjoyed the hell out of this.

If I had All of the Monies, I would turn my sociology minor into a masters or PhD good for work at the Kinsey Institute to go along with my future MFA and MLIS, but as it is, I have to choose and make "none of the above, have you looked at the loan rates lately?" a prominent option AND IT'S NOT FAIR. But then I calm down because I can keep books like this on my shelf.

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