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on October 17, 2001
Ambrose Bierce's most famous story is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and many of his stories follow that same kind of pattern: an event is related with some surprising or revelatory twist at the end. The stories of the Civil War are especially interesting as they are not at all typical writings about war. Bierce does not see the battle so much as one of North against South rather he sees the war as the child sees the war in his story Chickamauga, his attitude is one combining fascination at the spectacle and utter disgust. Life is an unresolved jumble of confused forces and mixed emotions for everyone in Bierce's haunting tales that read like dreams but dreams informed by much contact with reality as Bierce was wounded twice(once in the head)in the war he describes. The descriptions of Civil War battles are told with great precision(and alone make this volume worth having) though there is always an additional element to make them more than war reportage, Bierce turns his accounts into stories because he sees through all the cannon smoke to the small detail which encapsulates the essential thing about an event. In one of my favorites, Killed at Resaca, a courageous captain gallops across a field to deliver a crucial message only to find the field is impassable because of a deep gully, instead of turning around however he merely waits for the enemy to shoot him. Going through his personal things a fellow soldier, the narrator of the story, finds a letter which explains this resolve. The letter reads:"...I could bear to hear of my soldier- lover's death, but not of his cowardice." Later, when the narrator has a chance to return the letter to its author he is asked by her how her soldier-lover died. "He was bitten by a snake,"is the narrators reply. Bierce's pen was dipped in wormwood and acid said H.L. Mencken. His stories of soldiers and civilians are told with a bitter and venomous clarity. His humor was always of the sort aquainted with the gallows. He said at age 71,"I am so old I am ashamed to be alive." And so he rode off to Mexico. It's hard to imagine Stephen Crane existing without the example of Ambrose Bierce just as it is hard to imagine Bierce without Poe. What a strange tradition of independents we have.
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on November 19, 2004
So many authors owe a debt of thanks to Ambrose Bierce and his excellently crafted stories. Most of us encountered at least one of his gems in elementary or high school, but the smattering was not usually enough. THE COMPLETE STORIES OF AMBROSE BIERCE is a must for anyone interested in American literature. A master or horror, Gothic, and deep emotions, this writer is not given enough credit today. Faulkner is probably the closest thing, or maybe some of Crane's stories, but really none can compare with Bierce. These haunting and intricate tales hold up as well today as they did a century ago. In fact, they're better than most of what you'll read nowadays. An author who owes a debt of thanks, is Jackson McCrae. I recently read his CHILDREN'S CORNER and was amazed at how influenced he must have been by Bierce. Especially with the title story in the collection. It was like a modern version of what Bierce might have come up with himself.
Also recommended: THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
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on December 29, 2000
Ambrose Bierce is as famous for the circumstances surrounding the end of his life as for his bitter fatalistic prose. Bierce was a journalist/author and a Civil War veteran. In 1913, after the breakup of his marriage and the death of his sons, he set out for Mexico to meet Pancho Villa and observe the Mexican Revolution at first hand. He wrote to a friend:
Goodbye, if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico--ah, that is euthanasia!
With that, he disappeared into Mexico and was never heard from again, fueling wild speculation about his fate (i.e., Carols Fuentes' novel The Old Gringo). A fitting end for an author whose works combined a bleak view of life with elements of mystery.
Bierce's Civil War stories are bleak little tales of death and destruction. There's one here that nicely captures his cynical world view--most of us saw a film version of it in grade school--An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Peyton Farquhar is a Southern planter captured behind Union lines on a spy mission. As the story opens, he stands upon Owl Creek Bridge with a noose around his neck thinking of the wife and children he will never see again. But when the Union soldiers try to hang him, the noose slips and he swims off downstream. He flees across country until he finally reaches home and as he approaches his open armed wife...the rope snaps tight and we realize that he had imagined the whole episode on his way down. Here in one tidy package is the brutality of war, the futility of life and the bitter wit that characterizes his work.
He's not for all tastes, and I'm not generally big on short stories, but I like him.
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on February 26, 2004
Ambrose Bierce was a fine writer and this is a good sampling of his short stories. It is not, however, a complete collection of his short stories. I particularly missed "One Summer Night" and there are a number of other stories that could have been been included. Still, this collection is well worth reading.
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on August 21, 2001
Ambrose Bierce was the one of the 2 writers of major significance to fight in and survive the Civil War (the other being Sidney Lanier). He was bitter to begin with, but the experience changed him into an even more cynical man. An eloquent writer, his best subject is fear: his ghost stories are dark and spooky - the civil war stories are as well, but with the added horror of a very real war and fear of battle. "Chickamauga" is one of my favorites - Bierce was actually at the battle but the story is fictional, and adds a supernatural angle to an infamous time and place. His writings are ghostly and vivid tales of America in the mid 19th century. The horrific experiences encountered in his tales are both real and imagined. If you are a ghost story fan or an American history/Civil War buff, you'll enjoy Bierce.
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on December 11, 1998
To anyone interested in the English language and its application by a master story teller, this author must be read. Bierce is an American wit equal to (and contemporary of) Mark Twain, and he writes not with a pen dipped in ink but with a scalple dipped in bile. Prepare to be scathed.
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on August 21, 1999
A master horror story teller
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on August 28, 1998
After reading about Ambrose Bierce and his fierce wit this book was a real let down. Too many stories, all of a similar vein. I should have gotten the Devil's Dictionary!!!
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