What is the Great American Novel about a dentist? Could it be Frank Norris' McTeague (1899) with its great opening paragraphs?
It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day, McTeague took his dinner at two in the afternoon at the car conductors' coffee-joint on Polk Street. He had a thick gray soup; heavy, underdone meat, very hot, on a cold plate; two kinds of vegetables; and a sort of suet pudding, full of strong butter and sugar. On his way back to his office, one block above, he stopped at Joe Frenna's saloon and bought a pitcher of steam beer. It was his habit to leave the pitcher there on his way to dinner.
Once in his office, or, as he called it on his signboard, "Dental Parlors," he took off his coat and shoes, unbuttoned his vest, and, having crammed his little stove full of coke, lay back in his operating chair at the bay window, reading the paper, drinking his beer, and smoking his huge porcelain pipe while his food digested; crop-full, stupid, and warm. By and by, gorged with steam beer, and overcome by the heat of the room, the cheap tobacco, and the effects of his heavy meal, he dropped off to sleep. Late in the afternoon his canary bird, in its gilt cage just over his head, began to sing. He woke slowly, finished the rest of his beer—very flat and stale by this time—and taking down his concertina from the bookcase, where in week days it kept the company of seven volumes of "Allen's Practical Dentist," played upon it some half-dozen very mournful airs.
McTeague looked forward to these Sunday afternoons as a period of relaxation and enjoyment. He invariably spent them in the same fashion. These were his only pleasures—to eat, to smoke, to sleep, and to play upon his concertina.
You can now get the entire novel online: McTeague (complete text).
McTeague is fun to read, that's for sure (you'll never feel the same about teeth--or finger-biting or canaries--after you read it), but it doesn't appear on anyone's Best American Novel list, I don't think. Still, you gotta read it ...
Yes, that is an x-ray. Yes, that is my mouth. Yes, it is recent. Yes, that is a screw in my jaw. Yes, it hurt. No, McTeague was not my dentist. (Nor was the late Sir Laurence.)
So I wait for the bill, wait to open it, wait to read it. OUCH!