Sunday, 5 August 2012

In the Midst of Life - Ambrose Bierce

A vintage Penguin from March 1939.  We know this because it handily advertises its own publication date on the back.

Bierce is one of those fascinating characters like Carravaggio and Villon who simply walked out of history.  Bierce is especially impressive because he was much more famous in his lifetime and vanished in 1913, the height of the US newspaper boom and some years into the development of mass communication technology.  Better still, vanishing without trace is a regular trope in his macabre fiction.

Macabre is the word for Bierce, not horror or the supernatural or even weird.  He delights in haunted houses, odd coincidences, the unpredictable twist of fate.  Essentially he knocked out hundreds of these stories for the popular press and they are collected in innumerable editions.  This means that once you have read one collection of Bierce you are never going to find another in which all the stories are unknown to you.  "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge", "Chickamauga" and "The Middle Toe of the Right Foot" appear in most.  Then again, every time you dip in to another collection you find a new golden nugget.  In this case, for me, it was "Parker Adderson, Philosopher."

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