Before he trailed off into the wilds of Mexico, never to be heard from again, Ambrose Bierce achieved a public persona as "bitter Bierce" and "the devil's lexicographer." He left behind a nasty reputation and more than 90 short stories that are perfect expressions of his sardonic genius. This volume of selected stories represents an unprecedented accomplishment in American literature. In their iconoclasm and needle-sharp irony, their formal and thematic ingenuity and element of surprise, they differ markedly from the fiction admired in Bierce's time.
''An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,'' the premier title in this collection, is one of the most widely anthologized American short stories and is considered Bierce's best work. First published in 1891 in Bierce's short story collection Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, the story centers on Peyton Farquhar, a southern planter who is about to be hanged by the Union Army for attempting to destroy the railroad bridge at Owl Creek. As Farquhar stands on the bridge with a noose around his neck, Bierce leads the reader to believe that the rope breaks and that Farquhar falls into the water below, only to escape to his farm, where he is reunited with his wife. ''An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" has been lauded as an example of technical brilliance and innovative narration as well as for its examination of such themes as the nature of time and the complexities of human cognition.
The title story in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge: And Other Stories is in the canon of required reading for high school English classes everywhere and has been extensively anthologized for good reason. It is a gripping, genre-bending, time-twisting, brilliantly constructed story of a Confederate sympathizer awaiting his impending death by hanging.
As the noose is being fitted, the nameless condemned man considers the events of his life that led him to this most unfortunate point. The ending, no spoilers of course, is everything. Multiple surprises await.
This classic story and others are narrated with leathery smooth emphasis by Jonathan Reese.
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