Picks and Pans Review: The Road to Wellville
T. Coraghessan Boyle
In this wildly funny novel set in 1907, a rich and neurotically ill couple, Eleanor and Will Lightfoot, meet Charlie Ossining, would-be entrepreneur, on a Ham bound for Battle Creek, Mich. Charlie is looking for fame and fortune in the cereal business, like his hero, C.W. Post. The Lightfoots have a different mission. They’re headed for the sanatorium of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the cornflake and absolute ruler of the “San,” where wealthy and famous patients are expected to follow with religious fervor his strict regime of vegetarianism, enemas and celibacy.
As in a Dickens tale, our characters face peril at every turn. The harder they strive, the deeper they sink as their paths cross again and again under the influence of the fanatical Dr. Kellogg and his nemesis, George, his own evil adopted son. The reader learns a little about cereal, a lot about greed.
In Wellville, Boyle (World’s End, East Is East) brings his exhilaratingly bombastic style and virtuoso language to an old-fashioned adventure tale. The ordinary becomes obscene, the grotesque hilarious. Boyle blurs the line between fact and fiction, comic and tragic, to create a magnificent satire of 20th-century America’s obsession with health, wealth and righteous morality. You can wait for the movie (Alan Parker, director of Mississippi Burning, has picked up the option), but it would be a shame to miss the snap, crackle and pop of the book. (Viking, $22.50)