cover image The Road to Wellville

The Road to Wellville

T. Coraghessan Boyle. Viking Books, $22.5 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84334-3

Each time out, Boyle ( World's End ; East Is East ) aims for a new target, and this time he has hit the bull's - eye. Wellville is a rich plumcake of a book, full of ripely conceived characters, satire both broad and bitter, beautifully integrated period atmosphere and writing that is colorful but considered. Set in Battle Creek, Mich., in the early years of the century, it evokes the days of C. W. Post and Will Kellogg, when fortunes were being made and lost in the national rage for the new breakfast cereals. Will's brother, John Harvey Kellogg, was an early diet devotee; to his hugely successful Battle Creek Spa came the flower of American business and society to trim their waistlines, work out and eat the kind of healthy, tasteless foods sadly recognizable to any weight watcher today. Kellogg, a showman par excellence, ran it like a small but ruthless dictatorship. Among his clients the winter of 1907, in Boyle's fictionalized account, are Will and Eleanor Lightbody, he a decent man wasting away at the urging of his fanatical wife; among the hopefuls struggling to make their names in the cereals business is engaging young ne'er-do-well Charles Ossining. How all their paths cross, how Will saves his ghastly marriage and Charles almost goes to jail but is rescued at the 11th hour and ultimately makes his pile: Boyle has woven all this into a tale told with the broad humanism and compassionate eye of a great 19th-century novelist. Truth and fiction are invisibly blended in Boyle's splendid novel, in which a loving concern for the innocent at heart touchingly prevails. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; film rights to Alan Parker/Beacon Pictures; first serial to Rolling Stone; author tour; BOMC selection. (May)