Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If you're going to the dentist in San Francisco

now reading: McTeague by Frank Norris

Before Brian, my main concept of Frank N. was The Octopus, this perhaps because I started working in a bookstore when I lived in California and it just kind of happened that way. But then I started this little literary blog project and Brian suggested Norris for 'N' because he (Brian) loves McTeague.

So now I'm more than halfway through the tale of this big ol' bumbling dentist and his friends and neighbors and antics on San Francisco's Polk Street (not to mention at the theatre and on their picnics in Schuetzen Park). The story is written in a simple, charming fashion that I find delightful. I read that it is a Zola-esque "literary naturalism." But you know what else it reminds me of? Candide. (my favorite!) It's like the anti-Proust. But not with the dry choppiness of, say, a Hemingway. It's that easy, straightforward storytelling that can come across as "old-fashioned" but not in the stiff old flowery old-fashioned way.

He also does this thing of showing you how lover/fiancee/wife Trina's family speaks in their German accents which is funny and which for some reason I'm not finding nearly as annoying as other times when authors write a character's speech in the vernacular. D.H. Lawrence did a bit of that with Lady Chatterley's gamekeeper/lover to show how he switched back and forth between proper talk and that of his native village, not to mention everyone from Mark Twain to Toni Morrison having used it for African-American English, particularly in the South. I generally find it tiresome to read.

Am I the only one who gets annoyed by that stylistic device? It's OK in McTeague so far. Maybe because even out of the dialogue he'll write the son named August as "Owgooste" because that's how they say it and how McTeague hears it, so the book is reflective of McTeague's experience.

At any rate, the best thing about this book is the little flat with its various rooms and how all the neighbors who have apartments there come to life and have their quirks and interact.

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