Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
Flawed characters and strong brutish images of greed. Great book!
on November 16, 2008
I discovered this book through a recommendation from Amazon when I was ordering several turn-of-the 20th century novels. Written in 1899, by a young author who died in 1902 at the age of 32, the setting is San Francisco, the characters are flawed, and the story is filled with strong brutish images of greed.
The main character, McTeague (who is never given a first name throughout the book) was brought up in the mining camps, and apprenticed himself to a traveling dentist at a young age. When the story opens he is a dentist, living in a small apartment house and earning a living through this trade. When the innocent Trina needs some dental work, he falls in love with her and wins her away from his best friend Marcus whose seethes with anger and wants revenge.
McTeague and Trina plan to marry and at first are delighted when Trina wins $5,000 in a lottery. But as the story unfolds, the couple's happiness becomes tainted as Trina hoards her money. Other characters are introduced to support the theme of greed. There's the Mexican maid who sells whenever she can steal to the Jewish man who lusts for gold. There is the elderly man and elderly woman who are too shy to admit their attraction for each other. And then there are the dogs which always seem to be in the background and support the animalistic nature of the evolving plot.
There is success followed by utter failure and the rapidly changing relationship between McTeague and Trina into that of sadism and masochism. At times the book is hard to read. But it's also hard to put down. At the beginning I was a bit frustrated by the author's long descriptions of scenery and furnishings and let my eyes slide past them to look for the action by the characters. But the story is about things owned and things lost. And so there was a reason and an importance to all those long descriptions.
The conclusion is raw, brutal and inevitable. It was also perfect.
I consider this book a little-known hidden gem. I'm glad I discovered it and found out that novels written during this time period are not all about manners and the sheltered world of the elite.