by James M. Fisher
Seasons of Discontent is Raymond Fraser’s thirteenth work of fiction. It could be subtitled; “The Continuing Adventures of Walt Macbride” since it features the recurring semi-autobiographical character Ray’s readers have met before in novels such as The Bannonbridge Musicians and In Another Life. 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, the Prologue succinctly sets up the novel for the uninitiated.
The time is 1963. The place is the fictional New Brunswick town of Bannonbridge. 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 BA and then 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 unfolds. Some entries (not typically dated, however 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 deals 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.
There were 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 this novel will surely whet your appetite for more of Walt’s adventures.
Raymond Fraser is the author of 13 books of fiction, three of non-fiction, and six collections of poetry. Five of his books are listed in Atlantic Canada’s 100 Greatest Books. In 2009, he received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for High Achievement in the Literary Arts. In 2012, he was appointed to the Order of New Brunswick for his contributions to literature and culture in the province. Ray was born and raised in Chatham, NB and now lives in Fredericton.
While not a New Brunswicker by birth, James M. Fisher has lived in Miramichi, NB for over seven years and feels quite at home there. He started his website The Miramichi Reader following a suggestion by a fellow reading enthusiast at Goodreads. James is an ardent reader whose aim is to highlight New Brunswick authors and publishers, as well as cover subjects of interest to New Brunswickers in particular and Maritimers in general.