Seasons of Discontent (2015, Lion’s Head Press) is Raymond Fraser’s thirteenth work of fiction by this prolific New Brunswick author. It could also be subtitled “The Continuing Adventures of Walt Macbride” since it features the recurring semi-autobiographical character Ray’s readers have met before in such novels as The Bannonbridge Musicians and In Another Life, just to mention two. In fact, “Seasons” expands upon Part Three of In Another Life (“The Mid Sixties and Beyond”). However, it is certainly not necessary to have read these other books before reading this one for the Prologue in “Seasons” succinctly sets up the novel for the uninitiated.
The time is 1963 and the place is the fictional New Brunswick town of Bannonbridge, and Walt has returned from Montreal – where he took a year off school to work – to finish his fourth year of university in order to get his B.A. and then get a teaching job. He is quite determined to buckle down, be more tolerant of things that have typically annoyed him and avoid all the old temptations, primarily alcohol and relationships that distracted him in the past.
Walt is keeping a journal, and this is how the novel reads out. Some entries (not typically dated, but we always know what month or season it is, hence the title) are lengthy, others are just a sentence or so long, perhaps a paragraph or two. Some consist of a dream Walt has had, how university is going, his pursuance of female companionship and family problems. There are three parts to the book, the first dealing with his last year of school, part two is about his summer in Bannonbridge and part three is about his first year of teaching in a rural NB high school.
Some gems I especially appreciated while reading this book:
Walt has moments of reflection that make one chuckle out loud. Who of us hasn’t bitten our lip whilst eating? Have you ever done it twice in a row? It happened to Walt and he then ponders:
“But now I am afraid to finish my peanuts. What if I should bite my lip a third time? I might snap. I might have to do myself in, show that SOB not to mess around with me.”
He expresses his honest self-examination when studying for his final exams this way:
“When I work I work hard, but I’m jealous of my time and energy, and don’t care to waste either. It’s what’s known as being efficient, or bone-lazy.”
As if to reinforce this thought, Walt, after he has finished university and is passing the summer in Bannonbridge:
“You might think it’s the youthful fire in me, this restlessness. That might well be if I weren’t so indolent at the same time. Wanting to go and do, I go nowhere and do nothing.”
Success comes to Walt Macbride?
Coming to Part Three, there is a subtle, but distinct change in Walt as he leaves Bannonbridge to take on his first teaching job in a rural area far from the nearest town, tavern and liquor store. He rooms at Mrs. Tuttle’s boarding house and by day two his journal entry states:
“I have to get out of this place.”
However, our man Walt toughs it out, finds he likes teaching although he has a tremendous workload, and shares his spare time with a fellow boarder (and teacher) from Pakistan, which makes for some very humorous situations to say the least. Walt also has a promising long-distance romance with a nursing student in Montreal. Overall, the book ends on an upbeat note and leaves one with the feeling that no matter what we may be facing now or in the future, perseverance pays off. It’s been a long hard road for Walt, but in 1965 life is looking good for Walt Macbride.
The character of Walt Macbride is a truly complex one, and he goes through emotions and deals with vices or weaknesses we have all gone through or dealt with over the years. I always measure the worthiness of works of fiction by what value we can take away from them after having spent hours of our irreplaceable time reading them, and by that yardstick, Seasons of Discontent measures up very well. Reading Seasons of Discontent will surely whet your appetite for more of Walt’s adventures.
Seasons of Discontent is available from Amazon here, and is also available from Lion’s Head Press and independent bookstores.
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.