Richard Derus's Reviews > The Octopus: A Story of California

The Octopus by Frank Norris
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's review
Nov 16, 2011

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This book merits three stars based on historical interest alone. It's not Norris's best writing by a long shot, that honor belonging to "McTeague" (in this writer's never-humble opinion), and it's further evidence if any was needed that the loss to American letters that Norris's death at 32 was immense.

The imagination that Norris evidenced in his six-book career is sharp. He saw clearly the world around him, and wasn't about to let the Great Unwashed fail to see it with his clarity. His infelicities of style were those that a longer career could have, and probably would have, beaten out of him. Dreiser aside, the other American Realists improved their writing chops with time; I see no reason to suspect Norris of Dreiser-hood.

But no amount of writerly tyro-hood can take away the astonishing storytelling eye the man had. It's entirely possible that we'd have grown our own, more meellifluous, Conrad right here in Murrika had medical science been only a little more advanced in 1902. A major cultural "what might have been" moment....

I'd say this isn't a book to read and savored and committed to memory, but rather a cultural artifact to be appreciated by those interested in the culture in question.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 1, 2009 – Finished Reading
November 16, 2011 – Shelved

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