The Road to Wellville

( 9 )

Overview

Will Lightbody is a man with a stomach ailment whose only sin is loving his wife, Eleanor, too much. Eleanor is a health nut of the first stripe, and when in 1907 she journeys to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's infamous Battle Creek Spa to live out the vegetarian ethos, poor Will goes too.

So begins T. Coraghessan Boyle's wickedly comic look at turn-of-the-century fanatics in search of the magic pill to prolong their lives—or the profit to be had from manufacturing it. Brimming with ...

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Overview

Will Lightbody is a man with a stomach ailment whose only sin is loving his wife, Eleanor, too much. Eleanor is a health nut of the first stripe, and when in 1907 she journeys to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's infamous Battle Creek Spa to live out the vegetarian ethos, poor Will goes too.

So begins T. Coraghessan Boyle's wickedly comic look at turn-of-the-century fanatics in search of the magic pill to prolong their lives—or the profit to be had from manufacturing it. Brimming with a Dickensian cast of characters and laced with wildly wonderful plot twists, Jane Smiley in the New York Times Book Review called The Road to Wellville "A marvel, enjoyable from beginning to end."

Now available in paperback, laced with wicked comic wit, this is the story of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's infamous spa. This comic masterpiece was called "a marvel, enjoyable from beginning to end" by Jane Smiley in The New York Times Book Review. Boyle's most recent novel, East is East was a national bestseller.

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Editorial Reviews

Jane Smiley
In a Boyle novel, there are major characters but no true heroes or heroines. Instead, Mr. Boyle invariably complicates and muddies the conventional play of good against evil...."The Road to Wellville" is T. Coraghessan Boyle's lightest, least fierce novel. But in the end, as a reassurance to those of us who have savored the sharpness, complexity and bitterness of his previous works, the animals still bite, the fecal matter still flies and foolishness is still on ample display. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Each time out, Boyle ( World's End ; East Is East ) aims for a new target, and this time he has hit the bull's - eye. Wellville is a rich plumcake of a book, full of ripely conceived characters, satire both broad and bitter, beautifully integrated period atmosphere and writing that is colorful but considered. Set in Battle Creek, Mich., in the early years of the century, it evokes the days of C. W. Post and Will Kellogg, when fortunes were being made and lost in the national rage for the new breakfast cereals. Will's brother, John Harvey Kellogg, was an early diet devotee; to his hugely successful Battle Creek Spa came the flower of American business and society to trim their waistlines, work out and eat the kind of healthy, tasteless foods sadly recognizable to any weight watcher today. Kellogg, a showman par excellence, ran it like a small but ruthless dictatorship. Among his clients the winter of 1907, in Boyle's fictionalized account, are Will and Eleanor Lightbody, he a decent man wasting away at the urging of his fanatical wife; among the hopefuls struggling to make their names in the cereals business is engaging young ne'er-do-well Charles Ossining. How all their paths cross, how Will saves his ghastly marriage and Charles almost goes to jail but is rescued at the 11th hour and ultimately makes his pile: Boyle has woven all this into a tale told with the broad humanism and compassionate eye of a great 19th-century novelist. Truth and fiction are invisibly blended in Boyle's splendid novel, in which a loving concern for the innocent at heart touchingly prevails. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; film rights to Alan Parker/Beacon Pictures; first serial to Rolling Stone; author tour; BOMC selection. (May)
Library Journal
Focusing on the ``Biggest Little City in the U.S.A.,'' Boyle provides a delightfully comic anatomy of a society obsessed with miraculous cures and spectacular successes. In 1907, Battle Creek, Michigan, is a magnet for rich seekers of health and robust seekers of wealth. The former flock to John Harvey Kellogg's health spa, where the regimen requires a change in the intestinal flora via five enemas per day. The latter attempt to con their way into the booming breakfast food business. Rich with historical and imaginative details, the novel includes a romantic love story and a fierce battle between a determined father (Kellogg) and an evil son (the only one of 42 adoptive children who defies the great healer's efforts at reform). In this inventive and highly entertaining story, Boyle's proven talents are again displayed in rare form. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/93.-- Albert Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookville
School Library Journal
YA-This novel gives readers insight into the health attitudes and morals of the early 1900s. It's also a riot to read. Boyle points out the ease with which medicine was manufactured at the turn of the century, and the dangers of taking them. John Harvey Kellogg, founder of Kellogg cereals, is mercilessly portrayed as an unethical doctor who purposely misinformed his patients. He supported his outlandish claims with circus tricks that demonstrated the violent potential of eating meat. The man is also shown to have had a humanitarian side. He adopted over 52 children, many of whom went on to become successful doctors and lawyers. Another of the main characters, Will Lightbody, unwittingly becomes addicted to Sears's White Star Liquor Cure. He has a chronically upset stomach, and the tonic his physician prescribes has alcohol as the main ingredient. Will's wife, in a desperate attempt to cure his alcoholism, surreptitiously slips ``the cure'' into his evening coffee-the active ingredient being opium. And so the story continues.-Heidi M. Steinhauer, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL
Digby Diehl
A comic tour de force…Rich and delightful.
Playboy
Kirkus Reviews
In his fifth novel (East is East, 1990, etc.), one of America's most exuberant satirists takes on the national obsession with health and nutritional fads. It's a perfect fit. Battle Creek, Michigan, 1907, breakfast-food capital of the US. C.W. Post (Grape-Nuts) and the Kellogg brothers have already made their fortunes, but there's still a gold rush atmosphere in town. The inventor of the corn flake, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a preening martinet, now devotes himself to his Sanitarium ("luxury hotel, hospital and spa all rolled into one"), where he denounces meat-eating, enforces a five-enema-a-day regimen, and keeps his wealthy patients busy with such wacky treatments as the sinusoidal bath. Two of those patients are Will and Eleanor Lightbody of Peterskill, New York. While Eleanor talks up the San with fanatical zeal, the skeptical Will, struggling miserably with the cardboard food and fatuous pieties of his fellow-diners, is as lonely as Winston Smith in 1984. Another New York arrival, engaging young hustler Charlie Ossining, is in town to start his own breakfast- food company with partner Bender. What follows is a weave of satire and melodrama and three storylines: the lurid struggle-to-the-death between the Doctor and his outcast son George (the only one of 42 adopted kids to invalidate Kellogg's child-rearing principles); the equally melodramatic vicissitudes of Charlie; and the Lightbodys' marital drama, which climaxes when Will regains his sense of self and rescues Eleanor from the womb-manipulator Spitzvogel. Any raggedness is more than compensated for by Boyle's Dickensian eye for the grotesque and his formidable narrative power; most fittingly, for a book about the body,Boyle is one of those gloriously physical writers who can describe a simple walk on a cold night in a way that makes your blood tingle. Big, smart, exciting, and often wildly funny. (First printing of 100,000; first serial to Rolling Stone; film rights to Alan Parker)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140167184
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/28/1994
  • Edition description: New
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 639,321
  • Age range: 18 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.81 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

T. Coraghessan Boyle
T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE was born and raised in New York's Hudson Valley and now lives near Los Angeles. He is the author of several novels and short story collections. His 1987 novel, World's End, won the PENlFaulkner Award.

Biography

In the interest of time and space, it might be easier to note the writers that T. C. Boyle isn't compared to. But let's give the reverse a try: Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Evelyn Waugh, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Kingsley Amis, Thomas Berger, Robert Coover, Lorrie Moore, Stanley Elkin, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Don DeLillo, Flannery O'Connor.

Oh, let's not forget F. Lee Bailey. And Dr. Seuss.

Boyle, widely admired for his acrobatic verbal skill, wild narratives and quirky characters (in one short story, he imagines a love affair between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev's wife), has dazzled critics since his first novel in 1981.

Consider this example, from Larry McCaffery in a 1985 article for The New York Times: "Beneath its surface play, erudition and sheer storytelling power, his fiction also presents a disturbing and convincing critique of an American society so jaded with sensationalized images and plasticized excess that nothing stirs its spirit anymore.... It is into this world that Mr. Boyle projects his heroes, who are typically lusty, exuberant dreamers whose wildly inflated ambitions lead them into a series of hilarious, often disastrous adventures."

But as much as critics will bow at his linguistic gifts, some also knock him for resting on them a bit too heavily, hinting that the impressive showmanship attempts to hide a shortage of depth and substance.

Craig Seligman, writing in The New Republic in 1993, pointed out that "Boyle loves a mess. He loves chaos. He loves marshes and jungles, and he loves the jungle of language: luxuriant sentences overgrown with lianas of lists, sesquipedalian words hanging down like rare fruits. For all its exoticism, though, his prose is lucid to the point of transparency. It doesn't require much deeper concentration than a good newspaper (though it does require a dictionary)."

Reviewing The Tortilla Curtain in 1995, New York Times critic Scott Spencer scratched his head over why Boyle had invited readers along for this particular ride: "Mr. Boyle's fictional strategy is puzzling. Why are we being asked to follow the fates of characters for whom he clearly feels such contempt? Not surprisingly, this is ultimately off-putting. Perhaps Mr. Boyle has received too much praise for his zany sense of humor; in this book, that wit often seems merely a maddening volley of cheap shots. It's like living next door to a gun nut who spends all day and half the night shooting at beer bottles."

Growing up, Boyle had no aspirations to be a writer. It wasn't until his studies at State University of New York, where he as a music student, that he bumped into his muse. "I went there to be a music major but found I really couldn't hack that at the age of 17," he told The Writer in 1999. "I just started to read outside my classes -- literature and history. I wound up being a history and English major; when I wandered into a creative writing class as a junior, I realized that writing was what I could do."

He then started teaching, in part to avoid getting drafted into the Vietnam War, and later applied to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

After a collection of short stories in 1979, he released his first novel, Water Music, called "pitiless and brilliant" by The New Republic, and has shuttled back and forth between novels and short stories, all known for their explosions of character imagination. Mr. Boyle's literary sensibility ... thrives on excess, profusion, pushing past the limits of good taste to comic extremes," McCaffery wrote in his 1985 New York Times piece. "He is a master of rendering the grotesque details of the rot, decay and sleaze of a society up to its ears in K Mart oil cans, Kitty Litter and the rusted skeletons of abandoned cars and refrigerators."

In his review of Drop City, the 2003 novel set in California commune that won Boyle a National Book Award nomination, Dwight Garner joins the chorus of critical acclaim over the years – "Boyle has always been a fiendishly talented writer" – but he also acknowledges some of the criticism that Boyle has faced in these same years.

"The rap against Boyle's work has long been that he's a sort of madcap predator drone, raining down hard nuggets of contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor on the poor men and women in his books while rarely giving us characters we're actually persuaded to feel anything about," he wrote. "This is partly a bum rap -- and I'd hate to knock contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor -- but there's enough truth in it that it's a joy to find, in Drop City that Boyle gives us a lot more than simply a line of bong-addled innocents led to slaughter."

But perhaps the neatest summary of Boyle's work would be from Lorrie Moore, one of the novelists to which he has been compared. In a 1994 New York Times review of Boyle's short story collection Without a Hero, she praised Boyle's "astonishing and characteristic verve, his unaverted gaze, his fascination with everything lunatic and queasy."

"God knows, Mr. Boyle can write like an angel," she continues later, "if at times a caustic, gum-chewing one. And in this strong, varied collection maybe we have what we'd hope to find in heaven itself (by the time we begged our way there): no lessening of brilliance, plus a couple of laughs to mitigate all that high and distant sighing over what goes on below."

Good To Know

Boyle changed his middle name from John to Coraghessan (pronounced "kuh-RAGG-issun") when he was 17.

He is known almost as much for his ego as his writing. "Each book I put out, I think, 'Goodbye, Updike and Mailer, forget it," The New Republic quoted him as saying. "I joke at Viking that I'm going to make them forget the name of Stephen King forever, I'm going to sell so many copies.

Boyle's philosophy on reading and writing, as told to The Writer: "Good literature is a living, brilliant, great thing that speaks to you on an individual and personal level. You're the reader. I think the essence of it is telling a story. It's entertainment. It's not something to be taught in a classroom, necessarily. To be alive and be good, it has to be a good story that grabs you by the nose and doesn't let you go till The End."

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    1. Also Known As:
      T.C. Boyle
    2. Hometown:
      Santa Barbara California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Peekskill, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 15, 2009

    The Comical T.C. Boyle

    The Road to Wellville by T. Corhagessen Boyle

    A masterpiece of subtle comedy, T.C. Boyle's novel The Road to Wellville provides an in depth glance to the complicated and eventful creation of Kellogg's cereals. Boyle captures the turn-of-century health craze that swept the nation in the early 20th century. The novel centers around life at the Sanitarium, a radical new health facility in Battle Creek, Michigan run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. His prestige and popularity bring the wealthy and famous, including influential writer Upton Sinclair, and future president William Howard Taft, to the Sanitarium, along with other less esteemed patients.
    At his facility, known affectionately as "the San," Dr. Kellogg prescribes to each patient five enemas a day and sinusoidal baths. Most of all, he preaches abstinence and complete severance of spousal relationships, as it is "detrimental to the human condition." For one patient in particular, this recommendation seems ridiculous and unnecessary. Will Lightbody, a wealthy socialite from Peterskill, New York, was forced to come to Battle Creek by his wife Eleanor. Their marital problems started with the death of their baby daughter and Will's alcoholism, and are only worsened by their forced separation at the San. Will is constantly ailed by his stomach, which churns the moment he takes a bite of food, and is forced to follow strict rules as he is diagnosed with "autointoxication."
    The third delicately intertwined story tells of hopeful breakfast-food magnate, Charlie Ossining. Desiring the life of the rich and famous, he sets out with mysterious businessman Mr. Bender. Charlie's innocence and realism contrast well with the extreme views of Dr. Kellogg and the Lightbodys, who are obsessed with the world's opinion of them. However, the extreme character, and a quite literal foil to Dr. Kellogg, is his adopted son George. He is the epitome of bad health; rotting teeth, greasy hair, and ratted clothes make George an extreme disappointment and nuisance to the Doctor. Boyle emphasizes this in his detailed descriptions, painting a picture for the reader.
    As the novel progresses, Boyle incorporates clever and mature humor in to the complicated internal and external conflicts. Odd situations and comical stories, when read between the lines, reveal the doctor's struggle to present himself as a composed and intelligent man while he is truly a fraud. Additionally, he struggles to keep George, who causes him to feel a great sense of personal failure, away from his life and company. Will's strong devotion to Eleanor is tested by the San, and her actions dishearten his efforts. Throughout the novel, Boyle continually brings up sex, emphasizing that Dr. Kellogg will not allow Will have the one thing he desires most. Charlie tries desperately to be accepted in to the elite world, in which he feels mocked.
    The novel craftily knits three seemingly separate stories together to form a complex world in which there is no complete and true protagonist. Boyle uses deep glances in to the thoughts, actions, and pasts of each character, blurring the line between good and evil and leaving a hole in the place of a true hero. Each character's slight insanity and obsession with the world's opinion keeps one guessing. This combination makes for an interesting and entertaining read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Much too Much

    I bought this book, because I liked "The Women" so much and because I know a member of the Kellogg family. My interest was strong in the beginning of the book, and the characters interesting. I lost interest about the middle of the book, and scanned over the rest. Just too dull after awhile. Really disappointed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Good Novel... If Only Boyle Had Trimmed It A Little

    Two things are true of all TC Boyle novels: 1) They are always funny and well-written and 2) they are always well researched. Indeed there is no shortage of the former in THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE--it is replete with scenes of absurd tragedy and prose so rich and buttery you can almost see health-nut Harvey Kellogg wagging his finger. But it is the obvious infatuation Boyle has with researching Kellogg's story that bogs his own novel down. There are far too many superfluous descriptions of (a few examples) Harvey Kellogg lecturing a room full of astonished listeners; rich socialites eating vegetables; trendy medicinal practices circa 1907; and nurses administering enemas to reluctant colons. WELLVILLE is by no means a bad novel; in fact, its premise and setting are captivating at times, and even though the characters we meet at "the San" are all either idealistic and naive or righteous and self-important, they are still interesting enough to be followed around. But at about page 300 readers may find themselves hitting a wall. If you are that far invested, soldier on--like any good Kellogg meal, TC saves the best for last (ne'er-do-well George's fate is particularly gratifying)--but this is a clear example of a novel that could have been 50 pages shorter and still effective in achieving its sweeping Dickensian narrative.

    Recommended for Boyle die-hards, but for first-timers there are better books to choose from....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 17, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    a very lively read!

    This is one fantastic, highly entertaining story! It's full of wit, humor and energy. T.C. Boyle is a wonderful writer and his style shines in The Road to Wellville. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg is larger than life in these pages and a bit of an eccentric. The book seems well researched and put together and makes for a very lively read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2008

    A reviewer

    I haven't read a book this bad since I read A Separate Peace!! The plot is completely unreal and unrelatable. The only reason it lasted about 500 pages was because of all the unnecessary and pointless details. Although people claim its a comedy, I could have sworn it was a tragedy I was crying to the end of the book for having to read it. If you can, avoid reading this book AT ALL COSTS!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2002

    A true contribution

    to the historical record and a laugh out loud throughout. I went on to read every other book Boyle wrote and enjoyed them all!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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