Keely's Reviews > An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
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Nov 30, 07

bookshelves: fiction, short-story, reviewed, america, favorites
Read in November, 2007

In Asia, aphorism is a high art; there, the greatest of poems may be said in one breath. In the West, our greatest poems come in books numbered twelve, and only the greatest of men can remember the length of them.

However, we still maintain our aphorists, though often consider them as comical wits, would do well to remember the skill of indicating truth is with them. There is the poet, Nietzsche, who is also a philosopher and who summed up the goal of the aphorist well: "It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book — what everyone else does not say in a whole book." There is the politician, Disraeli, who found that ruling men meant understanding a plural and remarkable simplicity. There is the self-concerned wit Wilde, who told us that genius lies in misunderstanding and is so widely and unknowingly quoted that it is a cliche.

Speak what you will of Twain, but Bierce is America's entreant into the minute art; Twain would admit as much, himself. Indeed, Clemens considered 'The Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge' to be the single greatest short story of all Americans.

The man who copies the Psalms onto a grain of rice has condensed space, but the author who places the depth of a book into a short story has condensed meaning. The utterly deliberate and unfettered Owl Creek is a difinitively superior work, just as the man who strikes the bull's eye with his arrow by chance is never the equal to the one that may do so at his leisure.

There is an old French film which makes an excellent adaptation of this work, and which was once featured on the Twilight Zone, if that lends any notion of its quality.
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