Those who know Norris (1870-1902) through his muckraking novels, The Pit and The Octopus, will be interested in these 14 stories culled by the editors from among more than 60 tales that he published in his brief life. They include strong evidence of Norris's naturalism and his sense of the primal, the healthy, the rural, as opposed to the corrupt, the urban, the effete. In "His Sister," Norris describes a magazine writer "knowing he'd be more apt to find undisguised human nature along the poorer unconventional thoroughfares." In the autobiographical "Dying Fires," he writes of an author: "he lived in the midst of... a life of passions that were often elemental in their simplicity and directness." The gold in "Judy's Service of Gold Plate" foreshadows the use of that element as a symbol for greed in McTeague. In such stories, one anticipates Norris's influence on John Steinbeck. Even in the more journalistic tales, precursors of Jim Thompson-esque noir, Norris's favored themes, particularly of injustice and class consciousness, persist. Three of the stories have never been collected in book form before, including the experimental "Man Proposes," written in five parts for a literary weekly. These somewhat mannered short pieces describe five couples who decide to get married: the ways they come to and act on their decisions reflect their varying social strata and cultural sensibilities. (Oct.) FYI: This volume is the first in a series by Ironweed that will include works by Stephen Crane, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sarah Orne Jewett.
The career of novelist Frank Norris was tragically shortþhe died in 1902, at the age of 32þbut crowded with work. In less than a decade, he produced seven novels (including McTeague and The Pit)and some sixty short stories. A varied sample of the tales, most written for commercial markets, is gathered here. Some pieces are clearly apprentice work, reflecting either popular genres of the moment ("Third Circle," for instance, offers a variation on the then-common theme of the cruel, duplicitous Chinese thought to be active in America's Chinatowns) or the influence of other writers ("Shorty Stack, Pugilist" has O.Henry-like twists to it; "A Memorandum of Sudden Death" reminds one of the grim work of Ambrose Bierce). By contrast, the group of sketches labeled "Man Proposes," offering varied glimpses of the moment when a wedding proposal is made, demonstrates both the sardonic realism and the attention to social detail that characterize Norris's best efforts. Those with a pointed interest in the work of Norris, or in the state of magazine fiction at the turn of the century, will find the collection of interest. Others likely wonþt.