Monday, July 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #512- Ambrose Bierce: An Occurrence at Oak Creek Bridge

"A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord."

So begins Ambrose Bierce's classic American short story "An Occurrence at Oak Creek Bridge." Not that I harbour any stereotypes about Alabamans (I don't need the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd writing a song about me, thank-you very much), but I first thought that the man in question was a black man and that this would be a story about poor race relations.

This was not the case, though the man on the bridge was sympathetic to the Confederate side and was a slave owner. To be honest, that was enough to make me not care a great deal for the man. Not that I wish hanging on anyone, but had Bierce been trying to create a character that reader's would care for, I don't think he was successful. Even without the political or personal values, I don't think the man's humanity was presented in effective depth.

Nonetheless, Bierce has told an interesting story in an intriguing way. Hoping not to give too much away, it reminds me of something I remembered learning years ago in a psychology class: sometimes what we perceive to be lengthy dreams, full of twisting and turning plots, did not take that much time to conjure up. It was theorized that the whole story gets planted into our brain, like a memory, in a matter of seconds. A fun idea for an author to play with, for sure, and though there was a risk of it turning into the infamous Dallas scenario*, Bierce did not make me feel cheated.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

* At the end of Dallas, season 8, Pam woke up and discovered that the events of season 7's finale and the entire season 8 prior was "just a dream". This scenario has been parodied by dozens of shows since, most memorably in the finale of Newhart. It's not exactly what Bierce does, but you'll have to read it for yourself.


Stacy said...

Well if that opening line doesn't get one's attention...but good to know it doesn't cheat you in the end.

After too long of a time not participating, I have a Father Brown story to share...

Happy Monday!

Lisa said...

I've been meaning to read Bierce for years. Thanks for the reminder to get on it.

JoAnn said...

One of these days I'll read Bierce. My story is more contemporary this week - T.C. Boyle.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That is a rather intriguing opening line, and I will be back to read the story after I get done catching up. I won't even mention how I read Alabama as Alberta and didn't even find the talk of racism to be odd.