Raymond Fraser’s twelfth work of fiction is not a disappointment for his long-time readers. Released back in 2013 from Broken Jaw Press, I first tore through this book so fast that I decided to revisit it again since Mr. Fraser has a new book coming in April 2015.
“Bliss” contains 26 short stories, some of them barely a page long, but all are gems in their own way. I will highlight just a few of them below.
Most of the stories, and indeed, most of Mr. Fraser’s novels are written in an informal, first-person point of view. Typically, they are incidents and or adventures of the author himself (AKA Walt Macbride) that happened to the author in New Brunswick, or in his travels to larger centers such as Montreal or Toronto.
An example of this is “Upriver” in which the author pilots his boat into Bannonbridge (AKA Chatham, NB) to resupply his dwindling liquor supply (alcohol and alcoholism are two central themes in the majority of the author’s work. Mr. Fraser himself is a recovered alcoholic).
Once moored, the author lets life unfold before him as he sips a beer on the wharf. He first describes the surroundings:
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#000000″ class=”” size=””]”Over at the Station Wharf the trucks drive up and away. Men are shouting, and there’s the noise of the winches whining and clanging…The water in the slip where I’m moored is filthy and stinking, coated over with wood chips and sawdust and rubbish from the mills upriver.There are bottles and packagings trapped in it, an apple with a bite out of it, a styrofoam egg carton.”[/pullquote]
Then he strikes up a conversation with a Fisheries officer, soon to be joined by the ‘village idiot’, then an old friend with a scheme to make the perfect bank robbery. After that he visits his father and sister.
A lot happens in a few pages, and one is carried swiftly along from conversation to conversation. I would say that conversations (and Mr. Fraser’s recollections of them) are what make his writing style so interesting. I actually have to slow myself down while reading to savour the nuances of the story. Conversations are easy to skim over, but with Mr. Fraser’s writing, the conversations are what make the story come alive and add to the narrative.
Other stories remind me of the style of Raymond Carver (such as “Big City Man”). The type of short story that end abruptly and leaves you hanging, thinking you missed (or are missing) a page somewhere. It is left to the reader’s imagination to finish the story, the kind of thing we were asked in high school English classes to do (which we hated at the time, right?).
While Mr. Fraser does not set out to be a humorist, there are some real moments where a chuckle or a laugh-out-loud occurs. “The Politically Correct Witness” is a humorous skit worthy of Saturday Night Live or Second City. “Macbride’s Valedictory” is the type of realistic valedictory speech we all wish we had at our graduation.
One could go on and on, and there is a lot of enjoyment in this slim volume (175 pages) and I definitely recommend it as an introduction to Mr. Fraser’s works if you are not already familiar with them. Some of the characters and settings here in these stories will appear in his other novels as well.
You can read an interesting interview with Raymond Fraser on the subject of “Bliss” at Arts East:
The book itself is available from Broken Jaw Press: http://www.brokenjaw.com/catalog/pg140.htm
Raymond Fraser’s website is here: http://raymondfraser.blogspot.ca