Inspired by an actual crime that was sensationalized in the San Francisco papers, this novel tells the story of charlatan dentist McTeague and his wife Trina, and their spiralling descent into moral corruption. Norris is often considered to be the "American Zola," and this passionate tale of greed, degeneration, and death is one of the most purely naturalistic American novels of the nineteenth century. It is also one of the first major works of literature set in California, and it provided the story for Erich von Stroheim's classic of the silent screen, Greed.
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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.