Short Story Review: An Inhabitant of Carcosa, by Ambrose Bierce

At barely five pages, An Inhabitant of Carcosa delivers a disproportionately powerful jolt to the imagination. It isn’t a classic ghost story, but a weird tale, the kind most associated with H. P. Lovecraft, though there is more art in this story than in almost all of Lovecraft’s fiction.

A narrator awakens on a barren plane, his consciousness catapulted there after reading a passage in a book by an obscure metaphysician. Who is he? Where is he? What is Carcosa? The echoes of the magnificiently wrought details will give you almost all the answers you need.

Ambrose Bierce, the tale’s author, was a journalist, memoirist, and spinner of tales during the Civil War and The Gilded Age. Perhaps because his stories were on my high school English syllabuses, I have long ignored them.

I’m grateful that he was included in an NYRB Classics anthology I picked up when last I was in Providence, browsing the shelves of Lovecraft Arts & Sciences. A collection of Bierce’s war reporting, short stories, and essays is now on its way to my book-haunted garret in New York City.

Next up, Bierce’s The Damned Thing, which Joyce Carol Oates selected for her anthology of American Gothic Tales.

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