Frank Norris. McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899) 442 pp.
Avarice. In his classic of American naturalism, Frank Norris explores how one woman’s consuming desire to accumulate wealth leads to an even deadlier sin—murder. McTeague is a poor, inarticulate, self-taught dentist who practices out of modest “parlors” on Polk Street. His chief goals in life are to eat and drink well, do his job, care for his pet canary, play his concertina, and someday have a gold sign shaped like an oversized molar outside his office. When he meets and successfully woos the lovely Trina Sieppe, McTeague’s life seems utterly complete. On the eve of their wedding, Trina finds out that she has won $5,000 in the lottery. Suddenly wealthy, Trina is hesitant to part with a single penny of her newfound treasure. She sets about scrimping and saving to add to her hoard, setting in motion a series of events that lead to the collapse of McTeague’s practice, the loss of their home, the deterioration of her marriage, and ultimately her murder at the hands of her husband. Although not traditionally considered a crime novel (and certainly not a mystery) it is an examination of how circumstances can drive a person to commit the ultimate crime—the taking of another person’s life.
Baird & Greenwood 1879