Mc Teague stale by this time and taking down his concertina from the book-case, where in week days it kept the company of seven volumes of Allen s Practical Dentist, played upon it some half-dozen very mournful airs. Mc Teague looked forward to these Sunday after noons as a period of relaxation and enjoyment. He invariably spent them in the same fashion. These were his only pleasures to eat, to smoke, to sleep, and to play upon his concertina. The six lugubrious airs that he knew, always carried him back to the time when he was a car-boy at the Big Dipper Mine in Placer County, ten years before. He remembered the years he had spent there trundling the heavy cars of ore in and out of the tunnel under the direction of his father. For thirteen days of each fortnight his father was a steady, hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazy with alcohol. Mc Teague remembered his mother, too, who, with the help of the Chinaman, cooked for forty miners. She was an overworked drudge, fiery and energetic for all that, filled with the one idea of having her son rise in life and enter a profession. The chance had come at last when the father died, corroded with alcohol, collapsing in a few hours. Two or three years later a travelling dentist visited the mine and put up his tent near the bunk-house. He was more or Jess of a charlatan, but he fired Mrs. Mc Teague sambition, and young Mc Teague went away with him to learn his profession.
(Typographical errors above are due to OCR software and don't occur in the book.)
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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.