Bibliotica Reviews Outside In


Check out the review of Outside In on Bibliotica. “With nuance and a great sense of both language and place, Doug Cooper kept my attention from wandering for the entire length of Outside In…”

A nice addition that Bibliotica includes is a recommendation of accompaniments to best enjoy the book. “Goes well with A really good burger with crinkle-cut fries, and a cold beer, preferably from a joint that caters to summer tourists.”

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A Deeper Look At Outside In…5 Things To Consider


This is another installment in my “A Deeper Look” series peeling back the layers of Outside In to better understand the meaning of various aspects and characteristics of the novel.

Reviews are such a big part of the book selling process. Whether the reviews are professional or amateur, from book critics, bloggers, or online posters, they all help create awareness for new books and guide prospective readers on what to buy. Authors and publishers accept this and prepare themselves that not everyone will like the book and criticism is a an integral part of the feedback loop. Ultimately criticism provides another lens through which to view the work and ultimately grow professionally.

Occasionally, however, facts and details about the story get misinterpreted or misunderstood and need to be clarified. As discussed in some of the other Deeper Look posts, following are the main reasons for my writing Outside In:

> Represent the Prevalence of Erik Erikson’s “Quarter-life Crises” Inducing Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness in Twenties to Early Thirties
> Draw Attention to the Immaturity and Delayed Rites of Passage Due to the Abundance of Choices and Extended Periods in Higher Education and Living at Home with Parents
> Raise Awareness of Societal Issues with Self-Medication and Addiction Through The Pursuit of Excess and Instant Gratification

Following are five things mentioned by reviewers to reconsider:

1) “The story is the author’s life story.” While I have used a few details from my own life, such as I was a teacher in St. Louis and I spent a few summers at Put-in-Bay, I am not the lead character Brad Shepherd. The details from my own life that I used were done so because they best fit the character or plot development and also, as mentioned in the Literary References blog post, I am paying tribute to The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce as he did the same in his creation of Stephen Dedalus, his fictional alter ego. In addition, I’m having fun with the tendency of first novels to be autobiographical, leaving it up to the reader decide what actually happened and what is fabricated for the story.
2) “I didn’t relate to the drug use.” Well, I should hope not. In addition to the third bullet above, the excessive alcohol and drug use are exaggerated to symbolize the modern trials people face in their journeys of becoming. They start as recreational experimentation and the exploration of new experiences and quickly escalate in amount and frequency. This is done to show how easily people can fall into addiction, not even realizing it and completely losing themselves in the process.
3) “The characters frustrated me.” This is another intended response. Much like many of the flawed characters in the current popular television dramas, the characters in Outside In are intended to reflect the proliferation of self-centered and excessive behavior in modern culture. The characters function as a mirror to show the less desirable traits we all possess, and all are in one way or another lost. To find their way, they put themselves in environments to create the image of who they think they should be instead of allowing their trues selves to emerge.
4) “The book was not a mystery.” While there is some uncertainty about what the lead character will do, Outside In was never intended to be a mystery. It is literary fiction, which could be further specialized in the emerging category of new adult focusing on characters in their twenties to thirties confronting issues with identity, career and relationships. It is also categorized as a bildungsroman (novel of becoming), more commonly referred to as a coming of age story, but focuses on the moral and psychological growth of the protagonist ten years later in life than the traditional works in the bildungsroman genre.
5) “Plot was lacking in direction.” This is also a conscious choice and related to Outside In’s categorization as literary fiction, which is more character-driven than plot-driven like mainstream or other fiction genres. The events and actions intentionally wander and unfold in a way to represent the lost and searching aspect of the characters. The characters talk more about passion and living life to the fullest rather than doing anything except escaping to whatever to whatever vice is available. It is this contradiction and the layered characters and complex emotions and what they mean in a broader societal context that are at the core of the story more than solving something by adding up a series of events.

This post is by no means intended to refute others’ opinions. All views are welcome and appreciated. These are just additional points to consider and an attempt to continue the dialogue and discussion regarding Outside In. Feel free to comment your views on the points above or pose new questions via FacebookTwitter, or Goodreads.


A Deeper Look At Outside In…Literary References

BooksThis is another installment in my “A Deeper Look” series peeling back the layers of Outside In to better understand the meaning of various aspects and characteristics of the novel. Warning! This article contains spoilers of events in the novel. 

Although on the surface, Outside In may appear to be simply a hedonistic pursuit of the endless summer, as the title suggests, one must look past the appearance to get to the true meaning at the core. Just as the characters wear masks and put themselves in situations to be the people they think they should be rather than letting go and allowing the person they really are to emerge from the inside, many of the events and actions have a  deeper meaning through their connection to other literary works.

Following are some of the literary references in Outside In:

1) A Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Both Scarlet and Outside In deal with sin, legalism, and guilt as major themes and the main characters are motivated to create a new life devoid of the shame of past experiences. One direct reference is in Chapter 11 when Brad, Cinch, Stein, Griffin and Birch are at Heineman’s Winery in the back courtyard playing the Name Game. After a trip to the restroom to balance their escalating alcohol buzz, the suggestion is made to join the others in the front bar. Griffin says, “You go ahead. I’m way too amped to be around those folks. I might as well tattoo a big red C on the end of my nose.” This is referencing the scarlet “A” Hester Prynne is forced to wear on her dress after being found guilty of adultery in Hawthorne’s 1850 work of romantic fiction. Just as Hester was cast out to live with the shame and guilt of her sin, Griffin fears he would be discovered and face consequences for his indulgence.

2) The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: From the rhythmic passages to the supernatural atmosphere and frequent descent of the lead character into monomania and paranoia similar to Poe’s narrators, Outside In is loaded with references to The Tell Tale Heart and The Raven. During his drug-induced delusions and hallucinations, Brad suffers from the same “over-acuteness of the senses” that Poe’s narrator does in Tell Tale Heart. The opening and closing of doors to investigate and block out painful feelings is another connection between Outside In and Poe’s works. The smile Cinch hides behind when confronted by the police on the way back from the monument after being up all night and the one Brad casts into the night at the invisible surveilance team once he realizes there is nothing in the apartment to incriminate him allude to the narrator’s smile when the police come to search the place in Tell Tale Heart. One of the most glaring similarities is at the end of Outside In as grief-stricken Brad laments the loss of Cinch, the faint tapping and consistent gentle rapping from Cinch’s room that awakes Brad pays homage to the similar sounds in The Raven: “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”

3) Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce: Similar to Joyce in Portrait, Outside In contains certain autobiographical facts from my life. By using factual details in Outside In, I am paying tribute to Portrait as Joyce did the same in his creation of Stephen Dedalus, his fictional alter ego, and also having fun with the tendency of first novels to be autobiographical, leaving it up to the reader decide what actually happened and what is fabricated for the story. Both stories incorporate the pursuit of sensual pleasures to initiate the awakening of the protagonist after a self-imposed exile and extensively use free indirect speech. Brad’s first visit to the top of Perry’s Monument is a direct reference to the classic Daedalus myth for which Joyce names his protagonist. At the top of the monument, Brad feels imprisoned by his family, the events of his past, and his culture in general. He contemplates how easy it would be to jump from the deck: “At the edge of the observation deck, only a four-foot concrete wall separates me from an attempt at flight. In just one motion I could be over the side. It would be so easy—too easy. I have to step back.” This alludes to how Daedalus, the father of Icarus, was imprisoned in a tower to prevent the knowledge of the labyrinth from spreading, and he created a set of wings for him and Icarus to escape. Also paying homage to Portrait are the boat ramp and cliff diving scenes in Outside In. Just as the leap from the rocks into the water in Portrait represented a rite of passage to freedom and independence so does it in Outside In. As the characters emerge from the water and Brad muses, “The moonlight reflects off the water on their skin, radiating a soft glow.”, this is a reference to how Dedalus remembers how they “gleamed with cold wet lustre” and “their bodies were heavy with cold seawater”.

These are just a few of the references to other classic works in Outside In. Others exist from William Blake to René Descartes and many more. Comment via Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads to offer your suggestions.

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