First published in 1899, McTeague was a literary sensation. Its ultra-realistic portrayal of the rise and fall of a simple-minded dentist and his grasping, greedy wife was controversial for 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.
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.