Wednesday, November 16, 2016

T. C. Boyle For Now

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.

Hilarity ensues.

Highly recommended.


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.


  1. This is one Boyle I haven't read, but I've been impressed by the novels I have consumed, especially by his diversity. I strongly recommend The Women, a brilliantly structured examination of Frank Lloyd Wright's relationships with the female sex. More recently I read The Inner Circle, which sounds a bit like the book you've reviewed. It's an account of sex researcher Kinsey's life and world, told from the perspective of one of his hangers on. The two books are similar in their depiction of charismatic but very flawed possible geniuses.

  2. I will read that. Thanks. I just discovered Boyle a few years ago, having rediscovered fiction after decades of reading nothing but reference materials for the art objects I was handling. My first was "Drop City". I think I reviewed it on OGG some time back. I heard he's got a new one out. Let's see if I get tired of him. Hope not. I

    Also read a lot of Jim Harrison while I was sick and recuperating in '04 and '05. Maybe that's why I didn't get back to him. Ill memories of a year of Interferon/Ribavirin hell. Shudder...

  3. Hmm, this is really interesting. It's not the type of book I usually read, but I appreciate the description! It's intriguing to see that Boyle appears to have a particular pattern writing about geniuses and the people around them. I think all writers have our obsessions.

    1. Actually, I didn't know Boyle had written fantasy historical on the same lines as this. His stories are so different, they rarely follow the same idea. It's almost like reading different writers, when it comes to subject matter or approach. One thing that is common to his work is the dude's vast vocabulary. I learn new words when reading him. A writer's writer.

  4. I've never quite got around to reading Boyle's work, but I know there are some of his books available as recorded books at my library, so I'll definitely try some for in-car listening.

    1. I don't think you'll be disappointed, Sacchi. There's lots to read. He's quite prolific, and you can tell from these posts that he's all over the place as far as subject matter is concerned.


  5. I haven't read Boyle either. I'll look him up.


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