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Outside, Looking In (2003)
by Gil Gaudia, Ph.D.
Reviewed 2003-10-21: Gene Geminni is an Atheist. Gene Geminni hates his father. I mention those two points at the outset because you haven't read the book. But you needn't keep them in mind because the author, psychologist Gil Gaudia, reminds you of these things many times in the course of his first novel, Outside, Looking In.
The story begins with Geminni meeting a man who has promised to show him proof that the evil old man is really and truly dead. Gaudia then takes us back to Gene's childhood on the streets of New York, where he often has confrontations, ranging from words to fisticuffs, on the subject of religion. It seems Gene is not a well adjusted Atheist.
We follow Gene's life through his adolescent and adult troubles, his captivity in a Cuban jail, and finally his successful career as a psychologist and professor and his successful marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Ginny. Gaudia is skilled at describing action sequences, such as the runaway truck, the Cuban adventure and the "rescue" at the end.
Gene's heritage is part-Jewish, part-Roman Catholic, which is to say, a perfect stew from which to render an Atheist or an agnostic. It's also part of the reason that Gene feels that he's not so much a participant in his life as an observer of it: Outside, Looking In, as the title says. And the author repeats this phrase at least four times in 306 pages, as if we'd otherwise miss the point.
Gaudia drives home other points that could have been more subtly delivered. He boldly breaks his narrative flow to digress on topics of interest only to Atheists. For example, he reproduces in full the quote from Epicurus about God being either unable or unwilling to eliminate evil and gives a full accounting of Pascal's Wager.
What makes Outside, Looking In a troublesome read is its didactic tone, as if the author were not quite sure we'd "get" it. Often I judge a novel by how much I like the characters and how vividly they are drawn. Gene Geminni is not a very likeable fellow throughout most of the novel. He does kind of grow on you. I ended up liking him as the people around him, drawn more as scenery than as characters, warmed up to him, too. But it takes almost 300 pages for Gene to figure out that he's lived his life all wrong something the reader figured out 250 pages earlier.
The other problem with the novel is with the atheism. The atheism gets in the way of what could have been a better story. Not only are there interruptions to discuss philosophy, which is something that happens in George Bernard Shaw plays, but rarely in real life, but the author wastes words on telling his reader what he should instead be demonstrating.
When I was a college professor, teaching students about public speaking, there were three words that I made them memorize: show, don't tell. Instead of telling us about Gene Geminni's atheism, Gaudia could have provided examples. I think he has the descriptive power.
I have to mention here a problem with the text that is not the author's fault. I don't know whether or not the publisher skimped on the editing and proofreading budgets, but there are typos and other errors, such as missing words and run-on sentences, that should have been caught and corrected before this book was issued. This is a book that retails for $23.00 and the reading public deserves better.
That aside, I think I would have better enjoyed Outside, Looking In if the atheism had been incidental to the story, rather than the reason for it. The great skeptical writers* don't dilate on disbelief so much as infuse their environments with unbelief. Outside, Looking In should have been more about a man who happens to be an Atheist, rather than an Atheist who is trying to become a man.
* D'Annunzio, Balzac, Bjørnson, Chekhov, Conrad, Daudet, Dreiser, Dumas fils, George Eliot, Flaubert, Anatole France, Gautier, Gorky, Hawthorne, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Maugham, Maupassant, Melville, Merimée, George Sand, R.L. Stevenson, Strindberg, Turgenev, H.G. Wells, and Zola, to name a few.
Outside, Looking In a novel by Gil Gaudia, Ph.D. 306 pp. No city: Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 1-4134-0800-1.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.