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McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

4.5 13
by Frank Norris

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Frank Norris' graphic portrayal of the seamy side of survival in turn-of-the-century urban America remains shocking and powerful today -and its conclusion just as harrowing.

Author Biography:


Frank Norris' graphic portrayal of the seamy side of survival in turn-of-the-century urban America remains shocking and powerful today -and its conclusion just as harrowing.

Author Biography:

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The classic novel by Frank Norris is revisited in this 1989 recording by an immensely talented and well-directed group of actors. Set in 1899 San Francisco, Norris's story relates the life and times of a dentist, played wonderfully by Stacy Keach, and his wife, Trina (Carol Kane). With a celebrity cast of nearly 40 players that features superior performances from, among others, Helen Hunt, Ed Asner, Marsha Mason, Teri Garr and Hector Elizondo, the production is flawless and captivating. With music and realistic sound effects, director Gordon Hunt takes full advantage of the performing weapons at his disposal. Notable standouts include Joe Spano, who plays Trina's jealous cousin, Katherine Helmond as Miss Baker and Bud Cort portraying an array of secondary characters. (July)

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Neeland Media LLC
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Jonathan Evison

You hold in your hot little hands what is arguably the last great American novel of the nineteenth century. Published in 1899, just three years before his untimely death at the age of thirty-two, McTeague stands as Frank Norris's masterwork. It is both a tighter and more focused novel than his progressive muckraker, The Octopus, and a more visceral and evocative indictment of greed than The Pit. In Norris’s settings, themes, and political skew, readers can see the foreshadowing of Steinbeck, the lingering social conscience of Dickens, and the profound influence of the French naturalist, Zola. But I'm not here to talk about shadows. And I’m not going to reduce Norris to the isms which inevitably seem to attach themselves to discussions of his work. I just wanna talk about Frank Norris the writer, and McTeague the novel.
There is a gorgeous brutality to Norris’s prose, which is harmonious with the brutality of this tale. Norris was never noted for his elegance. The man dresses down language as he does humanity: unsentimentally. At his best, his sentences can pulverize language like bones into dust. Even when they’re riddled with passive forms his sentences are never static; they’re alive, because Norris knows how to move them. Why? Because Norris is not a sentence writer, he is a natural storyteller. He’s decisive and knows where he’s going. He knows when to linger and when to pass. He knows how to make exposition serve him and how to choose details that stick. Above all, he knows how to build an indestructible scene—and lordy, some scenes in McTeague, from the cue-ball incident to the epic finale in Death Valley, are seriously unforgettable.
It strikes me just how modern this novel reads. The tone and temperament of the prose, the naked, unromantic characterizations, the grim thematic reckoning, the battle cry of corporate tyranny, all of it could have been conceived yesterday. There's something—at least in the early portion of the novel—distinctly Dude-esque about Norris's sad sack portrayal of Mac, a slovenly dentist wallowing in his dumpy flat, swilling steam beer and lazing about, as the modern world passes him by. There is a modern sensibility to the gross-out factor that Norris evinces so effectively. That Mac falls in love with Trina while working on her teeth is a fact that I find both divinely perverse and totally disgusting—something that could be found today in a Farrelly Brothers film.
I realize I have an opportunity here to talk about the influence of evolutionary philosophy and progressivism upon late nineteenth century literature, or the corrosive forces of industrialization and freewheeling capitalism on the later Victorian era. I could touch upon the emergence of professionalism in middle class America, or employ a feminist lens and pick Norris to pieces. Through a humanist lens he could be called out as a rotten, hard-hearted bastard. But I am no critic and certainly no scholar, just an admirer. And it's not Norris's hard-heartedness that inspires me, anyway, rather his hard-headedness. McTeague is a gritty vitriolic rant, a novel with hair on it. Funny, brutal, clear-eyed, and above all, gloriously unapologetic in it’s skewering of humanity's baser instincts. This is a goddamn magnificent bastard of a novel.

Jonathan Evison

Meet the Author

Frank Norris is the author of McTeague A Story of San Francisco, The Octopus: A Story of California, The Pit, and Vandover and the Brute. He was a popular Progressive era novelist and naturalist who died a young, underrated master of American fiction.

Jonathan Evison is the New York Times bestselling author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, West of Here, and All About Lulu. He is the recipient of the 2012 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, the 2012 Booklist Editor’s Choice Award, and the 2008 Washington State Book Award. He lives on an island in Washington.

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