The Road to Wellville

The Road to Wellville

3.9 9
by T. C. Boyle

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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


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."

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
Martha Schoolman
Near the turn of this century, when Battle Creek, Michigan, was the national seat of breakfast-cereal production, hordes of salesmen hawked breakfast stock at the city train depot. The town was the headquarters of J. 20H. Kellogg and C. W. Post, the rival magnates of cornflakes and Grape- Nuts, whose names endure to this day, as well as those whose names do not. "Wellville" is a rich, thoroughly researched social satire that provides an engaging portrait of Battle Creek from three perspectives. The first and most central is that of Dr. Kellogg himself, high priest of a sanitarium where the rich and powerful go to be cured of physical and spiritual "autointoxication" brought about by meat eating and sexual activity. Possessed of a Napoleon complex and an abiding hatred of Post, he is saluted around the clinic as "the Chief." The second is that of Will Lightbody, a patient at the clinic who has trouble getting the Kellogg religion. The third viewpoint is that of Charlie Ossining, a shady businessman who tries to get a piece of the breakfast-cereal action a little too late. Boyle is not an easy writer, but he's developed a large following among appreciators of serious literature. They will be eager to get their teeth around his latest.
Digby Diehl
A comic tour de force…Rich and delightful.
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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Penguin Publishing Group
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2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.

Brief Biography

Santa Barbara California
Date of Birth:
December 2, 1948
Place of Birth:
Peekskill, New York
B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977

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The Road to Wellville 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
TheBeesKnees24 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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....
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
In 1907-1908 Battle Creek, Michigan was to the health food and wellness industry what a century later Silicon Valley would be in California. The epicenter of excitement, new technology, new ideas, new fortunes. Battle Creek was the beginning of the road to wellville (a slogan created by C. W Post, creator of Postum, Grape Nuts and Post Toasties). Post had been a patient in the Battle Creek Sanatarium run by John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., erstwhile Seventh-day Adventist, ongoing high priest of sensible vegetarian living, daily multiple colonic irrigation and no sex for himself or any of his patients. Kellogg believed that C. W. Post had broken into his safe, stolen his recipes and then made a fortune based on Kellogg's ideas. This was the origin of Post Cereals, later General Foods Corporation. John Harvey's brother William, aka W. K. Kellogg, wrested away control of cereal manufacturing and started Kellogg's Company. All this the short, natty, always in white Dr. Kellogg bitterly resented. So this is a comic novel about the early cutthroat, boom and bust days of American vegetarian breakfast foods. Not surprisingly one major character, Charlie Ossining, whose entrepreneurial hero is the great C. W. Post, comes to Battle Creek to seek his fortune, using a doting benefactress's start-up money. That money is soon spent by Charlie's partner, one Bender. The pair enlist one of John Harvey Kellogg's numerous adopted children, 20-year old Frank, to lend his name to their own Kellogg's Company and its miserable breakfast food. This scheme is successfully thwarted by the brothers Kellogg. ***** Dr. Kellogg treats an unhappy young married couple, Will and Eleanor Lightbody. They are rich and have recently lost an infant daughter. Will has acquired an addiction to an opiate fed him by his wife to break his dependence on alcohol. T. C. Boyle uses the great doctor's treatment of Will, Eleanor and others to showcase advanced but socially peripheral medical ideas of the early 1900s. Other doctors and a German quack named Spitzvogel also bring their eccentric practices into play. Their single-minded pursuit of such techniques as womb manipulation, to cure female hysteria, diets of nothing but milk, followed by nothing but grapes, electric shocks, surgery to remove kinks in bowels and on and on were staunchly believed in my leading medical brains of the era. It is all in THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE. And it is all very funny. -OOO-
Pewaukeepen More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
to the historical record and a laugh out loud throughout. I went on to read every other book Boyle wrote and enjoyed them all!