The Book: T. Coraghessan Boyle, THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE. Viking, 1993; first edition, inscribed: "Ellen: Con amistad, T. Coraghessan Boyle, 5/11/93." Fine condition.
First read: 1993
Owned since: 1993
Certain authors own large stretches of real estate on my shelves. Maeve Binchy takes up a foot simply because each novel is three inches thick. Other writers who have at least 12 inches' worth of my shelf space include Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Stephen King, and - yes - T. Coraghessan Boyle.
John Schramm sent me an e-mail last week to recommend Boyle's Budding Prospects, which I do not currently own because I gave my copy to my brother Ed. If I had to pick a favorite Boyle novel, it would probably be World's End, but this is the novel I'd recommend to anyone who's new to him. (Less said the better about the movie version, which is dreadful.)
The Road to Wellville is a novel about the turn-of-the-century health spa run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who invented breakfast cereal. Kellogg was obsessed with the mechanics of digestion, and believed that constipation (which he called "auto-intoxication") was the source of all human ailments. He also believed in the restorative power of radium therapy, electroshock treatments, and celibacy.
Boyle takes this fascinating source material and turns it into a tragicomedy of manners, a cautionary tale about health faddism. Young marrieds Will and Eleanor Lightbody arrive at Dr. Kellogg's spa in search of treatment for Will's dyspepsia, and nearly destroy their marriage and themselves. What I love about Wellville, and about most of Boyle's work, is that his characters are so earnest -- and while Boyle invites us to mock them, he also respects that earnestness, and his characters usually get endings happier than you might expect.
I don't remember where this book was signed; it might have been a reading at the Folger Library, where Boyle is a favorite visitor, or it might have been at an event sponsored by Chapters bookstore.
What I Read This Week
Mark Billingham, Death Message. I admire this series so much that I bought the UK edition, rather than waiting for the American one -- but this book is not the strongest entry. Detective Inspector Tom Thorne chases down a man who is killing everyone he holds responsible for the hit-and-run deaths of his girlfriend and son. The case turns out to be connected to some unfinished business from The Burning Girl. In fact, the end of this book wouldn't make much sense if you hadn't read The Burning Girl; so if you missed that one, start there, and wait for the US edition of Death Message sometime next year.
Sarah Gallick, The Big Book of Women Saints. Hey, everybody needs a role model. This book is exactly what the title says: capsule profiles of 365 women who have been canonized or beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. All the heavy hitters are here -- Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich -- as well as some of the more recently beatified, such as Saint Edith Stein and the Blessed Mother Theresa. The format prohibits too much detail about each woman, and I'd have liked to read a little more about some of their failings (Teresa of Avila's notorious temper, Saint Monica's alcoholism), but what's here is fascinating.
Stuart Woods, Shoot Him if He Runs. I felt obligated to read this book, as it was a gift from the author. The Stone Barrington novels are usually good for a couple of hours of guilty entertainment, but this installment's just tedious. Stone Barrington and Holly Barker go to the Caribbean island of St. Mark's in search of master criminal Teddy Fay, but the book bogs down in flagrant product placement and deadly conversations about airplanes and bureaucracy.