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Reading _McTeague_

 



As I read this book, I became enamored with the title. McTeague! McTeague! Greed! Greed! I've got the Erich von Stroheim-directed silent film _Greed_ ordered on interlibrary loan. The novel _McTeague_ is a brutally cynical look at the darker side of obsession and "every man [and woman] is a mob" psychology.

 

From the little background research that I've looked at, _McTeague_ is written in the naturalist style (e.g. Stephen Crane). I am getting very interested in this era of American literature, especially considering that my reading of Hawthorne has failed (too many commas!). There are boundless connections between the works of Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud from approximately 1880-1922, when the critique of human reason took on fiery, religious tones.

 

_McTeague_ -- I didn't know what was going to happen next! (Except for the final scene Death Valley, which is one of the most legendary finishes in Hollywood history.) Characters get killed off, character flaws get warped out of all proportion (a la Greek drama and Shakespeare), the subplots foreshadow and develop themes beautifully. One of the only flaws of the book is Frank Norris' sometimes-forced transitions between the handful of San Francisco narratives. Some paragraphs aren't written that well, while others leap.

 

One of my favorite sections reads thus:

 

"The one room grew abominably dirty, reeking with the odors of cooking and of 'non-poisonous' paint. The bed was not made until late in the afternoon, sometimes not at all. Dirty, unwashed crockery, greasy knives, sodden fragments of yesterday's meals cluttered the table while in one corner was the heap of evil-smelling, dirty linen. Cockroaches appeared in the crevices of the woodwork, the wall-paper bulged from the damp walls and began to peel. Trina had long ago ceased to dust or to wipe the furniture with a bit of rag. The grime grew thick upon the window panes and in the corners of the room. All the filth of the alley invaded their quarters like a rising muddy tide.

 

"Between the windows, however, the faded photograph of the couple in their wedding finery looked down upon the wretchedness, Trina still holding her set bouquet straight before her, McTeague standing at her side, his left foot forwards, in the attitude of a Secretary of State; while near by hung the canary, the one thing the dentist clung to obstinately, piping and chittering all day in his little gilt prison."

 

Grime and crime -- that's the formula. What an era for American literature. I am happy to return to reading early and often.

 
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