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The Road to Wellville by T. C. Boyle
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The Road to Wellville

by T. C. Boyle

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Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
This fat, picaresque novel focuses on the elite but quackish sanitarium run by Dr JH Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the early days of breakfast cereals. Kellogg was a powerful orator, a staunch vegetarian and a proponent of the kind of health fads that we'd nowadays class as alternative medicine; he also had some morbidly puritanical ideas about sex (cornflakes, famously, were originally intended to stop people masturbating – on what principle, I'm not sure, unless he planned to scatter them in people's beds).

The closed world of the sanitarium is a promisingly insular setting for the kind of comic novel that TC Boyle likes to write, and he manages to take in everything here from yogurt enemas, through insane diets (‘protose patties with gluten mush’, anyone?), budding entrepreneurs, down-and-outs, tycoons, alcoholism, opioid addiction, animal experimentation and the nascent nudist movement, all the way to the infamous ‘womb massage’ treatment for hysteria.

In a novel of two hundred pages, all this would have been a riot; at just shy of five hundred, I found it ultimately exhausting. Boyle's sense of humour does not quite agree with me: his main technique involves setting his characters up for great success, allowing them to reach the brink of attaining something wonderful, and then making sure that they fail in the most humiliating and unpleasant way possible at the last minute. I think this is supposed to be comic, but the effect on me was draining. (I vaguely remember feeling something similar during the last TC Boyle book I read, Water Music, too.) In this case, the ending turned out to be quite a happy one, which, unusually for me, actually made up for a lot.

It's almost worth dipping into The Road to Wellville just to sample the mood of this strange time and place, which really is fascinating. But overall, it's not so much Gr-r-reat! as Aver-r-rage! No I'm not proud of it.

Edit: Last night we watched the film version from 1994, directed by Alan Parker. It's great fun, and solves a lot of the problems with the book's plot – and it only requires an investment of two hours. So on balance, I'd recommend that instead. ( )
3 vote Widsith | Aug 13, 2018 |
Sort of a generic Boyle. Not the place to start. ( )
  nog | Oct 10, 2016 |
The opening scene is cinematic in its grandeur. Great hook and something Boyle does so well. Kellogg as the ultimate shyster; part preacher, part side-show hustler. He was fabulously crazy in the most successful way you can be crazy; selling the crazy to the desperate. Like many diets today and of yesteryear, it’s almost Puritanical in its denial of things we love; food for pleasure is the sin. No matter how much worse an inmate at ‘The San’ gets, they ignore it and double down. If one dies, they must have been doing it wrong, or not doing it enough. Will baffled me the most since he didn’t want to be there in the first place. As he got worse, why didn’t he just leave? After a while I started skipping Kellogg’s self-aggrandizing, anti-meat speeches. It was fun, but so over-the-top and prolonged that I was glad for the sub-plot involving Bender and Ossining; boss and bagman, con and dupe. I won’t tell you how that one ends, but it surprised me. Boyle does a great job when wrapping a fiction around a historical event, but this one could have been tighter. Losing about 100 pages would have been a good idea; maybe he needs to send the book to The San. ( )
1 vote Bookmarque | Aug 4, 2016 |
I usually love TC Boyle but this book, while very well written, was too jokey and farcical. None of the characters had much substance and they felt like characters in a movie not real life (the book would make a good movie and I think they made one?). I only read the first 200 pages so maybe it gets better but I had had enough. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
The book tells three basic stories which take place between November 1907 and late May 1908. The first story is about Will and Eleanor Lightbody. Eleanor, a fan of Dr. Kellogg, drags Will to Kellogg's sanitarium. Hoping to improve his marriage, Will goes along but is constantly filled with doubts about Kellogg's health methods. The methods include outlandish physical violations of the patients in lieu of direct sexual stimulation, for Kellogg insists sex drains the body of life. The story suggests that Kellogg suffers from some neurosis engendered by his own sexual dysfunction, resulting in a lifelong struggle to deprive others of their sexuality. The second story is about Charlie Ossining, a man who gets into a cereal business scheme with a man named Bender. The third story is about Dr. Kellogg himself — how he runs the sanitarium and of his growing irritation with George, one of many adopted children.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
T. C. Boyleprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lindenburg, MiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Life is a temporary victory over the causes which induce death." - Sylvester Graham, A Lecture on Epidemic Diseases
Dedication
Rosemary Post 1923 - 1981
First words
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the corn flake and peanut butter, not to mention caramel-cereal coffee, Bromose, Nuttolene and some other seventy-five other gastrically correct foods, paused to level his gaze on the heavyset woman in the front row. As was the audience, judging from the gasp that arose after she's raised her hand, stood shakily and demanded to know what was so sinful about a good porterhouse steak-it had done for the pioneers, hadn't it? And for her father and his father before him?
Quotations
"The Battle Creek Sanitarium: Organized Rest Without Ennui."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Made into a movie by the same name (1994). Centers on John Kellogg's 19th century health spa.
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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 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.… (more)

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