Reading McTeague is an extremely different experience for me. This novel is unlike many of the other “classics” I have read. It is dark and seedy and disturbing on many levels, but of course, I really enjoy those parts of the novel.
In particular, the characters are what drive this feeling. All of the characters are well-developed and written so that they become the worst representations of human character you have ever met…er…read about.
The dentist, otherwise known as McTeague, is one of the most brutal characters I have read about. He’s described as being 6’4”, blonde hair, and huge fingers (large enough to pull out teeth with his bare hands). He also appears to be slow and a little dimwitted, but he surprises you the further you read. Instead of being a big friendly giant, he turns into a bitter old monster.
Trina is something else entirely. When you first meet her, you almost love her. She’s young and beautiful. Then she wins $5,000 in the lottery and she turns into a miserable old miser who hoards money and insists on living far below their status level, to the point where it eventually drives McTeague to madness and then away.
The only characters that you can truly love for being honest are Old Grannis and Miss Baker, two old tenants who seem to love each other, even though they never speak.
I also have some fondness for Maria and Zerkow. Both of them are so insane and obsessed with objects that they eventually get married because of their insanity.
My absolute favorite, however, is Trina’s family. Norris paints them so beautifully that I loved any chapter with them in it, especially when they were talking. Some writers merely mention an accent when they are writing dialogue, and write the dialogue in standard English. However, Norris really plays up to their accent and writes their lines so you can these characters talking. For example, even though the boy’s name is August, he is referred to as Owgooste. Hearing the difference when you say it aloud makes the characters come alive. I love that.
I seem to find in my reading that authors are usually really strong in one area. It might be their plot line, their world building, their dialogue, their flowery descriptions, or their characters. I tend to find myself drawn to authors who know how to build and create characters that live with you, either because they’re approachable, or in this case absolutely insane.
I haven’t read any of Frank Norris’ other work, but I think after this I am going to need to try.
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