Friday, May 19, 2017

Road to Wellville

The Road to WellvilleThe Road to Wellville by T Coraghessan Boyle, 476 pages

In the first decade of the twentieth century , the capital of healthy living was Battle Creek, Michigan, and the center of Battle Creek was the Sanitarium made famous by Dr Harvey Kellogg.  Dr Kellogg, in turn, is one of the main characters of T Coraghessan Boyle's tragicomic novel of those seeking health and those seeking wealth in Battle Creek.  He is joined by the Lightbodies, Will and Eleanor, she devoted mind and body to the Doctor's gospel of healthy living, he somewhat more reluctant and skeptical; Charlie Ossining, a would-be cereal entrepeneur who increasingly comes to suspect that his partner, Bender, is conning him as well as their investors; and Dr Kellogg's Luciferian adopted son, George.  Individually and collectively, they must struggle to stay fit in a treacherous world of obsession, greed, lust, and daily enemas.

Boyle is undoubtedly a skilled writer, and there are definite moments where The Road to Wellville shines.  More frequently, however, there is a certain atmosphere of artificiality - the characters are not quite realistic enough to be entirely believable, not quite caricatured enough to be absurd.  The novel seems to promise a colorful cast of characters, from the quacks at the Sanitarium to the hustlers in the town, but remains stubbornly focused on the main characters, of whom only Kellogg is particularly interesting.  Combine this with the indulgent length of the novel, and many readers are likely to find reading about Dr Kellogg's Sanitarium as interminable as Will Lightbody found his stay.

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