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by Desiree Ramirez, Women's Life editor
In The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle bases his work in part upon the factual accounts and recollections of four members of Kinsey’s actual inner circle of sex researchers, as well as using information from the Kinsey Institute. With this research, Boyle writes a fictional novel around Kinsey, inviting the reader to have a look into the process behind his controversial studies.

The story spans a period from the late 1930s through Kinsey’s death in 1956. It is set in Bloomington at the University of Indiana where Dr. Kinsey offered a new “marriage course” for married or engaged junior and senior students. In these lectures, Kinsey educated the undergraduates about sex and the human animal’s physical needs.

Boyle created a fictional narrator, John Milk, and attempted to think and write as he would have, being the first member of Kinsey’s inner circle. Milk is a young, handsome, and naïve college graduate when Kinsey invited him to become a sex researcher in his newly formed Institute for Sex Research, Inc. Together they began their careers in sex research through conducting surveys of sexual behavior of men, women, and children of all backgrounds across the United States. With the data they collected, Kinsey published his controversial first volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and achieved celebrity status. Kinsey later published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female but that volume was less successful and the public responded negatively to it.

Kinsey, referred to as “Prok” by his intimates, mentors Milk and treats him as a son, but the relationship between the two is complicated on several levels. The eccentric Kinsey pushes the boundaries both personally and professionally. He dismisses sexually related emotions and mores, teaching Milk to feel similarly and put his new convictions into action, first in sexual relations with Kinsey and his wife, and later with other members of the inner circle. The inner circle consists of Kinsey, Milk, two other men, and their wives. It is in this inner circle where sex, infidelity, and marriage all begin mixing together-- all in the name of science.

Milk is obedient and finds himself dedicated to the project yet conflicted over Kinsey’s control of his life. He becomes morally corrupted through the unquestioning acceptance of Kinsey’s demands and attitudes, and these test the bonds of his marital fidelity as Milk’s new morality threaten his new marriage.

Through Milk, Boyle brings the reader into the life of a conflicted sex researcher, and helps us gain an understanding of what it would have been like working with Kinsey.

Boyle’s novel is full of irony and drama but manages to be emotionally compelling as well as stimulating. Milk’s encounters and experiences are humorous at times, but also sometimes exude hypocrisy. There are several accounts of the endless road trips Kinsey and Milk took to conduct the sex surveys, and these do tend to drag on. The relationship between Milk and his wife is beautiful, but heartbreaking at times due Milk’s docile behavior, which becomes quite frustrating. This book is not for the “sex shy.” It is a provocative reaffirmation of Kinsey’s professional influence on societal mores and an ironic commentary of the personal cost of Kinsey’s work.


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