Fumbling Toward Ecstasy

Director Bill Condon and writer T.C. Boyle grapple with Alfred Kinsey

Boyle's novel seems to me barely readable. Boyle is known as a consummate pro who writes with the fluidity, humor and bounce of the great 19th century comic realists (notably Dickens), and who re-creates their broad social canvases, but like his contemporary Tom Wolfe, the man can't do character, so he populates his novels and stories with walking clichťs that weigh down his otherwise-strenuous exertions to bring his stories to life.

Boyle did his homework with the biographies but seems to have no idea what to make of Kinsey's contradictions, and unlike Condon, he doesn't seem to even struggle with them—Boyle's Prok comes off as an unsympathetic Midwest loudmouth with a big cock and an even bigger ambition to make his inner circle do what he wants them to do, and to make America at large wake up to its inane puritanism. What's worse is that Boyle makes the disastrous decision to tell the story from the point of view of John Milk, one of Prok's researchers whose case of hero worship for his boss makes him wholly unreliable as a narrator (it's like Condoleezza Rice writing a novel about Bush), and who, further, suffers from a case of wimpiness that makes the reader want to run.

It's hard to fathom why Boyle decided on Milk as a narrator—Milk is continually apologizing to the reader for not telling the story right, and possesses neither the distance nor the psychological acuity to make Kinsey, his ostensible subject, at all comprehensible. There's some pathos toward the end in Milk's confusions arising from his desire to please Prok and his desire to conventionally love his wife, but even that gets resolved by a wholly contrived happy ending. It's a paint-by-numbers novel about a man who requires a master portraitist to do him justice.

THE INNER CIRCLE BY T.C. BOYLE; VIKING BOOKS. HARDCOVER, 418 PAGES. $25.95; KINSEY OPENS FRIDAY AT SELECT LA THEATERS.

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