McTeague, a strong but stupid dentist, marries Trina, introduced to him by her cousin Marcus Schouler. When Trina wins $5,000 in a lottery and increases the sum by shrewd investment, Schouler, who had wanted to marry Trina himself, feels cheated. In revenge, he exposes McTeague's lack of diploma or license.
Forbidden to practice, McTeague becomes mean and surly, but the miserly Trina refuses to let him use her money, and they sink into poverty. What follows is a descent into the ultimate crime - murder - and life as a fugitive, in a tale that moves toward its harrowing conclusion with the grim power and inevitability of classic tragedy.
(P)1993 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Wolfram Kandinsky's razor-sharp narration leaves one eager to hear more of Norris's few but outstanding productions as a novelist." (Library Journal)
"The first great tragic portrait in America of an acquisitive society." (Alfred Kazin)
"The writing is easy and natural, the moral earnestness refreshing and the construction masterful." (Kenneth Rexroth)
I first bought McTeague as a used book around 1980 because I had read that a great silent film that I had yet to see, Greed, was based on it. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but when I did it grabbed me from the first page to the last. The movie based on it is also great, by the way, which is especially surprising considering how severely cut it was by the studio. I had checked off and on all these years for an audio version of the book, so needless to say I was pleased to see that one had finally been recorded.
As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is very dark but frequently very funny. It added to the experience that I listened to most of it in San Francisco, which is where the novel takes place about ten years before the big earthquake of 1906. I was already somewhat familiar with the narrator, Wolfram Kandinsky, and always thought he was pretty good. At the beginning, I found myself wishing that a reader with a more spellbinding voice had been chosen for this book. However, that thought soon went away because Mr Kandinsky is an excellent actor. He's great with all the various characters and the variety of accents. He is also impressive at depicting emotion. Don't miss the wonderful scenery-chewing moment he gives Trina in the latter part of the book. You'll see what I mean when you get to it.
I don't know when I've spent 14 hours with such unpleasant characters (probably not since I listened to Zola's _Nana_, q.v.). It took me halfway through the first part to get used to Kandinsky's style. Though I appreciated that he has the vocal range to do women's voices expressively, his rendition of McTeague reminded me of Ed Brown of Flumdiddle fame. The book picks up with a change of scene halfway through the second (last) part, and I hadn't expected the gut-wrenching ending, so Norris gets points there both for structure and emotion. (I was walking the dog as I listened to the end, and I do believe it made me "vociferate" aloud.) I live in the San Francisco bay area, so I enjoyed the description of the dogs sleeping on the sanded floor of the Cliff House while McTeague and Marcus enjoy their beers, and I could picture Trina taking a break from housework, leaning out the bay window of her flat to talk to a neighbor on Polk Street below. BTW, this is NOT a bedtime book, and as I listened, I thought "*this* will never be a screenplay," but I've since learned that Erich von Stroheim adapted the book for his 1924 "Greed," starring Gibson Gowland and Zasu Pitts, one of the most famous "lost films" of cinematic history.
money corrupts all
McTeague's wife. Kept hoping she would do the right thing.
When wife would not give McTeague any money, leaving him to walk the streets.
There were a lot of twists and turns I did not expect. I liked that.
This is not a book you will play over and over in your mind. However, a good read none the less. Basically, a journey of one man's life....money....and choices.
Writing reviews is work. Therefore, I need to be really happy or really unhappy with a book to write one.
I enjoyed this book years ago; was fortunate enough to have seen the silent movie; and had been looking forward to having it read to me. I have listened for less than 20 minutes so far and find that it has been absolutely ruined by the narrator to the point where I'm just going to go find a print edition. I can take a so-so narrator if a book is good, and even an over-the-top one. I could probably even put up with this reader's grating voice and missed emphasis on words and punctuation, but I just can't deal with his weirdly sarcastic tone. Frank Norris wrote this as social satire; his characters let you know that as they emerge; it doesn't need someone's heavy-handed interpretation. Be warned.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
The first part of this novel was slow. I was frustrated enough (almost) to just pull the bookmark out and walk away. But soon Norris had me by the crown. Look people, if you are going to only read one literary work on Mammon's folly, on the parsimonious middle-child of the Seven Deadly Sins, THIS should to be the one. It focuses on McTeague and his wife Trina, but several other characters play almost equally important roles in examining avarice's many, obsessive faces. There are scavengers, hoarders, manipulators, thieves, etc.
Inserted into the novel, however, is one of the most beautiful and sad love stories in literature. Miss Baker and Mister Grannis, two older boarders and neighbors of the McTeagues, live in adjoining rooms in a boarding house. Each room has the same wallpaper, suggesting that the rooms used to be just one room. Mister Grannis spends his nights binding periodicals while Miss Baker makes tea and rocks near their shared wall. Each, silently, spends the evening sharing their divided space. Barely separated, each is comforted by the others presence. It is beautiful, a modern Pyramus and Thisbē, and a nice counterweight to all the gold lust and penny pinching. I don't know if I would have been able to survive the hardcore, step-by-step, drop of the McTeagues and their ilk into Dante's fourth circle without the uplifting, kind, and selfless older couple that shoots one warm ray into this novel's cold, dead roots.
aspiring citizen of the world
This novel is exceptionally well-read; Mr. Kandinsky performed voices (his accents brilliantly illustrated the author's focus on character and self-consciously "naturalistic" style) and brought great conviction to the entire endeavor. His enunciation was perfect; I never struggled to hear what he was saying. (The clarity was also helped by excellent recording.) His cadence mirrored beautifully the tone of the narrator.
The story begins pleasantly enough and, in spite of Norris's disgust with the main characters, I found most of them sympathetic, at the outset. But this story takes an exceptionally dark turn very quickly, and it only gets darker. I won't go into detail so as not to give away plot points; however, be forewarned that this novel describes domestic violence (and other brutalities) in unflinching detail. Norris apparently takes a very dim view of humanity, which makes this a hard novel to get through. His attention to quotidian details, however, provide a privileged and fascinating glimpse into middle-class life in late nineteenth-century San Francisco.
Approach with caution.
Fictional characters in narrative
Unusual narration, but got the job done in the end. All the main characters killed each other off. Perverse story re background theme of greed, awfully thick people stuck in ruts doing increasingly awful things to get money;
what is not to like about that?
The characters started out ok but got corrupted by money, going from bad to worse to worst. 5 stars for degeneration.
If any of my fine followers download and give this audio a chance I recommend don't rashy cash it back in to get money back. Instead give it a good long listen, for tis solid sordid greed-is-not-good story written about 1899.
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