Monday, June 06, 2016

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle

One of the women in our book club has been preaching the merits of T. C. Boyle since we started meeting, so we finally gave in and decided to read The Road to Wellville as our book club this month. After a string of decidedly depressing books, this darkly comedic book was a hit.  We kept interrupting to read each other passages from the book that were either hilarious or disgusting (and sometimes both).

This is historical fiction about Kellogg's infamous health spa, the San, in Battle Creek, Michigan at the turn of the twentieth century.  I have no idea how Boyle did his research, but the little bits of details about the time period that he intersperses in the narrative really made it an interactive experience for me as I kept having to stop and look things up. Most of what I looked up was about the medical diagnoses (what is greensickness? Bright's disease?), but I was also really curious about the entertainment at the San.  Who were these vaudeville performers? Was there really a wolf that Kellogg would trot out to show how great eating only vegetables was?
Each of those flags is something I looked up!
I also spent a good hour delving into the history of John Harvey Kellogg himself. Yes, he and his wife really did foster 42 children and they adopted eight of them. They never had biological children together and it may be that they didn't because, along with espousing a belief in a vegetarian diet and a regimen of exercise, Kellogg believed in abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and sexual stimulation. This is not a life I want to lead, it turns out. I would have lasted the length of a long weekend at the San, I'm afraid.

Anyway, it's rare that I enjoy a historical fiction book as much as I did this one, so I highly recommend it. I also immediately put a copy of Drop City on hold at the local library. It may very well turn into the summer of T.C. Boyle. 


  1. I had no idea T.C. Boyle wrote The Road to Wellville. I am not a fan of Boyle. But maybe I've just read some bad things by him. (Maybe he's a better novelist than short story writer.) I'll look into this one.

  2. Funny. Jill read this, and followed up with Drop City too.


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