by Daddy X
The Road To Wellville
I’m close to finishing T.C. Boyle’s 1993 parody of early twentieth century health zealots and their search for physiological and spiritual excellence.
The cover depicts a vintage photo of a man in white shirt and tie, sitting with his feet and hands soaking in a ‘sinusoidal bath’: four buckets of liquid. An assistant connects thick, coiled wires from each bucket to an improvised source of electrical current.
Set in Battle Creek Michigan, the central character is none other than the pompous Dr. John Harvey Kellogg himself. Purely fictional story line (I suppose) but a hilarious depiction of the very real proselytizer, well known for his ill regard toward meat, meat eaters, sex, love, booze, drugs (that he hadn’t himself prescribed) or anything else that stinks of pleasure.
Meet Will Lightbody, a husband disillusioned by overindulgence in alcohol. He acquires a mail order cure, a patent medicine laced with opium, to treat the condition. So, in addition to a meat eater, a booze hound, an oyster-slurper, Will is now an addict. He remains nonetheless impossibly in love with his gorgeous wife, Eleanor. She, in turn, is enthralled with Kellogg’s philosophy, and, moreover, with the good doctor’s assistant, Dr. Frank Linniman. Eleanor drugs Will to get him admitted to the ‘San’. (sanitarium)
Will learns to look forward to his morning enemas, caringly administered by a comely and well-intentioned, impeccably attentive nurse, Irene Graves. After an embarrassing encounter, rooted in an unfortunate misinterpretation of Nurse Graves’ aforementioned attentiveness, Will’s morning encounters turn less appealing, now brought to bear by the ruthless, square-jawed house disciplinarian, Nurse Bloethal.
A beautiful woman takes months to waste away from Kellogg’s radium treatments—a cure meant to save her from ‘greensickness’. An ‘autointoxication’ patient succumbs to electrocution in the sinusoidal bath. A turkey is spared at Thanksgiving. Kellogg’s pet white wolf is raised vegetarian to somewhat less than optimum results.
Meanwhile, peripheral characters become enmeshed with the burgeoning breakfast food business in Battle Creek, apparently now a center for … well … wellness. Various investors, hustlers and ne’er-do-wells, drawn to the new and shadowy industry provide diversions from life at the San.
C.W. Post is in competition with Kellogg. Kellogg’s adopted son is an admitted wastrel, a drunk, con man, addict (worse yet, meat-eater) out to destroy his father. A grave disappointment and an embarrassment to the great man. Plots and subplots enliven, interweave within and without, taking us into absurdities that go beyond anyone but Boyle’s imagination.
Guess it was coincidence, but just before somebody gave me the above book, I’d purchased a large short story collection by Boyle. I think I mentioned the book in the last “What I’m Reading” topic. Since starting the novel, the short stories have sat on a back burner. I’ve read about 15 of the 60 offerings in this collection:
T.C. Boyle- Stories II
Man, can that cat ever write! Boyle can be merciless in his depiction of unprincipled characters. He also has a softer side that comes off just as effectively, even bringing a reader to tears. His range is immense. Every story separate and distinct.
When I read one author for too long, my history has been to eventually abandon the author, thinking I want to move on to someone different. This is why a series has never appealed to me. I want new. I get tired of one writer’s viewpoint.
However, in Boyle’s case, he offers such immense range that it almost doesn’t matter. He can engage, surprise (indeed shock) a reader at will, delivering a satisfying variety of plots, scenarios and style.