McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

4.0 8
by Frank Norris

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McTeague created a literary sensation when it first appeared in 1899. Critics hailed Frank Norris as the "American Zola" for his gritty tale of greed and violence set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Yet the novel's ultra-realistic portrayal of the rise and fall of a simpleminded dentist and his grasping wife shocked many readers with its candid depiction of…  See more details below


McTeague created a literary sensation when it first appeared in 1899. Critics hailed Frank Norris as the "American Zola" for his gritty tale of greed and violence set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Yet the novel's ultra-realistic portrayal of the rise and fall of a simpleminded dentist and his grasping wife shocked many readers with its candid depiction of sordid behavior right at the edge of insanity. It remains a searing indictment of human weakness and selfishness in a rapidly evolving America that battled to reconcile city life with the mores of the Wild West.

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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Product Details

Wilder Publications
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.55(d)

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

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Meet the Author

Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr. (March 5, 1870 - October 25, 1902) was an American novelist, during the Progressive Era, writing predominantly in the naturalist genre. His notable works include McTeague (1899), The Octopus: A Story of California (1901), and The Pit (1903).
Frank Norris's work often includes depictions of suffering caused by corrupt and greedy turn-of-the-century corporate monopolies. In The Octopus: A California Story, the Pacific and Southwest Railroad is implicated in the suffering and deaths of a number of ranchers in Southern California. At the end of the novel, after a bloody shootout between farmers and railroad agents at one of the ranches (named Los Muertos), readers are encouraged to take a "larger view" that sees that "through the welter of blood at the irrigating ditch ... the great harvest of Los Muertos rolled like a flood from the Sierras to the Himalayas to feed thousands of starving scarecrows on the barren plains of India". Though free-wheeling market capitalism causes the deaths of many of the characters in the novel, this "larger view always ... discovers the Truth that will, in the end, prevail, and all things, surely, inevitably, resistlessly work together for good".

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McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Riveting is right! One would never know that this book was originally published in 1899. It reads like a modern novel, and I found it extremely hard to put down. You have a sensation of being carried from page to page by the author, without being aware of the words which transport you. The psychological tension was built very artfully. And it was so delightful to read about everyday life in San Francisco in the 1890's -- I went out and bought some genuine San Francisco Anchor steam beer afterwards! The story was so popular that one director created a 10-hour B&W silent version of the book in the 1920's! This was the first book I read by Frank Norris, and I was oh so pleasantly surprised. What a tragedy that Norris died at the age of 32 what a wealth of fine literature he could have provided us. This is a great book on many levels, and the B&N Library of Essential Reading edition is especially handsome and readable.
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Nestor_J More than 1 year ago
Its a great read; felt sort of like a precursor to The Great Gatsby.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous 5 months ago
Okami slowly wraps his arms around her. Then the teacher clears her throat. "Mr. Okami and Ms. Zawa. Would you two like to go to the Principle to talk about your violation of the rule of no PDA?" Okami reluctantly lets Zawa go, and she does the same. Okami sits down in the seat next to her, and she stretches out her leg, resting it against his knee. Then the bell rang for lunch. They go to the lunchroom. As they pass a couple of boys, the taller one sticks his foot out, tripping Zawa and causing her to fall.****** post your part on the usual book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago