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 ultrarealistic 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.
"McTeague is one of the great works of the modern American imagination," wrote Alfred Kazin. "The novel glows in a light that makes it the first great tragic portrait in America of an acquisitive society. McTeague's San Francisco is the underworld of that society, and the darkness of its tragedy, its pitilessness, its grotesque humor, is like the rumbling of hell. Nothing is more remarkable in the book than the detachment with which Norris saw it--a tragedy almost literally classic in the Greek sense of the debasement of a powerful man--and nothing gives it so much power."
Something of a cult classic, McTeague was one of the founding works of unflinching realism and naturalism in American writing. McTeague was first published in 1899; this new Modern Library edition brackets the book's 100-year journey through literary consciousness, from its first splash as a rather lurid literary sensation in its retelling of a true-life crime in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, to its renewed popularity among modern readers.