Frank Norris' graphic portrayal of the seamy side of survival in turn-of-the-century urban America remains shocking and powerful today -and its conclusion just as harrowing. McTeague's final flight into the desert is the central image of many a classic Western, and the shocking conclusion, now a cliche copied by countless other storytellers, first made its appearance in this classic novel.
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.