The Inner Circle

Written by T.C. Boyle
Review by Colleen Quinn

Nothing is forbidden in Professor Kinsey’s human sexuality research, except failing to document one’s experiments for the edification of the group. As close to a practicing nudist as it was possible to be in 1940s Indiana, Professor Kinsey considered discretion and privacy as mere defenses for those unfortunates he termed “the sex-shy.” His life work is a battle against sexual inhibitions; he has none and won’t accept them in the people who help him in his research.

One member of the research team that would eventually become the Kinsey Institute is John Milk, who serves as narrator in T.C. Boyle’s novel. John is also married, but his wife is less trusting of Professor Kinsey’s motives, and John must resolve his career with the controversial, magnetic Professor Kinsey within the context of intimacy and family life. This becomes more challenging as Professor Kinsey’s requirements from his staff grow more personal and more demanding, and as the work of the Kinsey Institute gains significant cultural prominence. Professor Kinsey’s work explodes in the 1940s and 1950s, radically altering our understanding of human sexuality.

A fascinating study of group dynamics in thrall to a charismatic figure, The Inner Circle explores the differences between sexuality and intimacy in the crucible of society’s changing expectations. Although our attitudes toward sex may change, in T.C. Boyle’s novel, human nature is always the same.