Outside Looking In By T.C. Boyle. (Ecco, 385 pages, $27.99.)
A family opts to give up everything to move into Timothy Leary's LSD-taking commune: What could possibly go wrong? "Everything" is the obvious answer, and it does in Boyle's fact-inspired novel that, after a brief prelude about the first synthesizing of LSD in Switzerland, takes place in the early '60s as the prophet of acid lures Harvard colleagues into his experiment in consciousness-raising and group dynamics.
It's a "Great Gatsby" story, really, with Leary as the remote but charismatic figure who carelessly draws others into his orbit and the Loney family — doctoral candidate Fitz, librarian wife Joanie and son Corey — as Nick Carraway, dazzled by the possibilities that will doom then. Boyle's timing is good, with microdosing still a hot topic. But, since his is a "Gatsby" story, there's only one way this can go. And, with his numerous, dull attempts to visualize the LSD trips that Michael Pollan has recently told us are indescribable and his near-total lack of interest in anything about women except their physical appearances, Boyle hasn't figured out how to make these dopes' grim journey compelling.
Marilla of Green Gables
By Sarah McCoy. (William Morrow, 300 pages, $26.99.)
Fans of Anne Shirley ("Anne of Green Gables") might understandably be skeptical of a prequel to the beloved stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery. And since the gorgeous Kevin Sullivan productions' Marilla Cuthbert (Anne's elderly guardian) is pretty much Colleen Dewhurst, and who dares tamper with that legacy?
But fans might wonder, as McCoy did, about Marilla's earlier life. What was her childhood like? What of that barely mentioned affection between her and John Blythe, father of Anne's true love Gilbert?
Sarah McCoy (with humility and research, both spelled out in her endnotes) invites us back to Avonlea, to imagine a different girl's story, one of wrenching loss, abolitionist work, and romantic discord. The first sections of the book are the strongest, reintroducing us to Marilla, her brother Matthew, and friend Rachel Lynde in their youth.
The novel is an imaginative gift to fans of the original books, with nothing outlandish to alienate those who loved them. Should readers quibble with each other over whether the characters created by Montgomery match those by McCoy, I suspect they would enjoy a lively book-club chat — over raspberry cordial, perhaps?
Sarah McCoy will be at Literature Lovers' Night Out April 9 in Excelsior and April 10 in Stillwater. Tickets $11 and $20. https://www.lit-lovers.com/events.html.
HOLLY COLLIER WILLMARTH