An early example of American realism, "McTeague" was considered truly shocking when first published at the turn of the century. This searing portrait of the downfall of a slow-witted dentist and his avaricious wife embodies Frank Norris' powerful insights into conflicting forces of heredity and social conditioning. It is a novel of compelling narrative force, resounding with a sense of life as epic. As Kevin Starr points out in his introduction, "McTeague" continues to be regarded as a central statement of evolutionary awareness in late nineteenth-century America and as representative of the best work of a school of writers that included Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser.
The novelist Frank Norris is almost forgotten today, but in books like "McTeague," published in 1899, he paved the way for a whole generation of American writers--a generation that included Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis and, less directly, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. McTeague is a dentist saddled with a grasping wife, and the book chronicles his rise and fall in awkward but powerful prose. This type of social realism, so contrary to the uplifting entertainment of the day (and to Mark Twain's more fanciful, comic novels), provided turn-of-the-century America a disturbing mirror in which to view itself.