This is the cover of my novel In A Cloud Of Dust And Smoke (Black Moss Press, 2003; cover photo by Marty Gervais). Due to popular demand (or something of the sort) I've decided to accompany it with some comments from the more astute critics, as follows.
"A beautiful novel, written from the heart."
— Fred Cogswell
"An entertaining novel with serious and even sombre overtones — a kind of anti-romance in which the narrator keeps a comic perspective on his own and others' woes, and remains to the end an innocent, reminiscent of Tom Jones and other picaresque heroes."
— Robert Gibbs
A fine, fine book... well-written, provocative, engaging."
A fine, fine book... well-written, provocative, engaging."
— Michael Holmes, ECW Press
"Endearing and engaging... provides a nuanced insight into a time that will never return."
— The Gleaner
— The Gleaner
Below is the cover of a novella and story collection called Costa Blanca (Black Moss Press, 2001; cover photo by Marty Gervais). "A must read, by one of Canada's truly great writers." — Gail MacMillan, author, Ceilidh's Quest.
"A Canadian literary legend. If every writer wrote with the clarity and gusto Fraser does, more people would still be readers." — Allen Tepper
Much of Costa Blanca was set in and around the town of Denia, Spain, seen in the photo below.
This is roughly what the author looked like in his Costa Blanca Period, in the 1970s.
Another book our author worked on in Spain (as well as in Chatham and on board Spanish Jack) was the novel, The Struggle Outside, published in 1975 by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. "Represents the best in contemporary satire. Outrageously funny." Best Sellers, New York
Below is a review of The Struggle Outside by the late Dave Butler, as good a book reviewer as I've ever read. His assessments were not only accurate and insightful but entertaining to read, literary gems in their own right.
THE STRUGGLE OUTSIDE FILLED WITH ZANY ANTICS
By Dave Butler
The Struggle Outside is, on one level, the story of a gang of revolutionary cowboys who swoop down on Fredericton and carry off a cabinet minister. The minister is to be held for ransom to help finance the Revolution, as will a comic preacher they also kidnap.
lt this sounds a bit fantastic, well, it’s all part of the fun in Raymond Fraser's recently published novel, The Struggle Outside (McGraw-Hill Ryerson). Fraser, a native of Chatham, lives and writes in New Brunswick.
The novel chronicles the madcap adventures of the Peoples Liberation Army, a revolutionary group out to overthrow the N.B. government and establish their party, which, they are positive, will be truly of, by, and for the people.
The hectic tone of the whole bizarre story is set by the narrator in his Author’s Preface. There he tells us that he is a member of the "Army", that he has been captured by the authorities who are holding him in an insane asylum, and that he has managed to smuggle out his "combat journal", so that we may read it and keep the faith.
Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the novel is its plot: the conflicts are very sharply defined and the story moves at a very brisk pace. As readers of Fraser’s short story collection, The Black Horse Tavern, will readily agree. he is a marvellous storyteller.
The characters in The Struggle Outside are out of this world. Truly. the "Army" seems to consist of six demented revolutionaries, and Fraser fixes them quickly, surely, and firmly in the reader’s mind.
Besides the narrator, the characters are:
Chief Magaguadavic, certainly the sanest of the lot, the original revolutionary, and, among other things, a symbol of the vanishing culture of the North American Indian. ln keeping with his symbolic role, the Chief does not, naturally, actually 'appear' in the novel.
Cavanaugh, a former university professor, blinder than a baseball bat, yet the Army‘s munitions expert, who spends a good deal of his time constructing time bombs and dynamite grenades.
Liz, a paranoid feminist who wants to be a sex-symbol. or a paranoid sex-symbol who wants to be a feminist.
LeBlanc, an alienated French-Canadian, who's out to get "dose h’english."
And Moses, a violent, opportunistic scoundrel, who is out to use the group for his own sadistic purposes.
Certainly these characters are recognizable types, then caricatures, then individuals, and finally, symbols. Not an amiable lot, but certainly an unforgettable one.
The Struggle Outside is sub- titled A Funny Serious Novel. The comedy is derived basically from the absurdity of the plot and the idiosyncracies of each of the kinky characters.
The plot piles one absurdity on another in Mel Brooks' fashion. Anyone who takes the plot seriously ought to apply for membership in the Army. the pivotal move in the plot, for example. is the kidnapping of the cabinet minister, and this is the fail-safe move – blow it, and the Revolution's over. Yet when the Army arrives on the scene to capture him, they have to use a telephone call to locate him. Sly planning. And the minister, for his part, good-naturally goes along with them, because, after all, he’s been elected to serve the people.
No character is kinkier than Cavanaugh, the brilliant intellectual-cum-lecher, who is continually ambushing Liz.
On the serious side, the novel may be regarded as a satirical fable on revolutions and revolutionaries. l say fable, because, while the plot and characters are ridiculous, the theme is not.
Just as George Orwell used the fable Animal Farm to satirize totalitarianism, so Fraser turns his lunatics loose in NB., and beneath their frenetic activities we can glimpse some facets of the revolutionary process. For example, there are times when the novel reminds one of such groups as the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
The Chief, for one, is used to make a thematic point: he was the original revolutionary, but as the others came in, the group moved from revolution for a cause to revolution for revolutions sake.
Fraser keeps the reader reeling from the comic to the serious and back to the comic. Fraser is a literary Muhammed Ali – he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, always moving, always keeping the reader off balance.
And while this style might be irritating in another novel, it is superbly suited to the zany antics and wacky freaks in The Struggle Outside.
The Struggle Outside, by Raymond Fraser, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975.
The Bannonbridge Musicians, on the other hand, wasn't written in Spain, but in Saint John and Black River Bridge. It was published by Breakwater Books in 1978, and for what such things are worth was runner-up for the Governor General's Award. (Cover painting by Gerald Squires)
"A rollicking tale, well told." — William French, Globe & Mail
"It's well-written, it's touching, it's full of life, and it's funny."
— Andre Vigneault, CBC Radio
The book you see below, Rum River (novel & stories), was written in Black River Bridge, Montreal and Fredericton, and published by Broken Jaw Press in 1997. After you've dallied a moment over the cover you'll find an extra treat at the bottom. (Cover photo by Joe Blades)
SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE $20 + $4 Shipping
What some critics and readers had to say about Rum River:
"Comic and horrifying."
— Heather Sanderson, Canadian Literature
"As with all Raymond Fraser books, almost impossible to put down." — Brian Jeffrey Street, author, The Parachute Ward
"A wonderful enthralling read — intensely personal yet universally relevant. It's the first time I read a book straight through in a long time. I'm no critic, but Rum River belongs on the same shelf as such masterpieces as The Catcher In The Rye."
— Bernell MacDonald, author, Birds Of Passage
Message on answering machine from Dave Butler, calling from Chatham, NB (April 8/98)
"God knows what roads you're running these days. In any friggin' case I'll call you by and by. Just one point... I don't know how long your message machine runs... I was talking to Billy Daley, the outstanding former baseball player with Chatham Ironmen, and I loaned him a copy of Rum River a few days ago, and he read the whole damn thing — he's quite a literate guy — he read the whole thing in a sitting or two, and called me and told me it was tremendous! And so he's doing some good oral reviews around the local saloons and that. Daley is very quick-witted; he's looked upon by some as a dumb jock, but he's not that, which is why I loaned him the book. Anyway, he recounted (and he's got a pretty good memory) excerpts from the book, and quoting a few lines which he thought particularly delicious, shall we say, and all the boys in the local saloons think it's great stuff, and they're all... "[machine cuts him off]
Review of RUM RIVER
FRASER DOESN'T MINCE WORDS
By Anne Ingram
The deep-feeling narrator of many of the stories in this recently published collection is an alcoholic writer who knows he is living on the edge. He documents with brutal honesty, in page after page, the devastating toll that "booze" is taking on his body.
"I kept awake, shaking and horrified, ripped by convulsions, levitating and plunging towards the abyss..."
Yet, because he is addicted, he can't stop himself from returning to the bottle. Despite the fact that, after teetering on what he thought was the brink of death, he vowed to stay sober, he justifies taking another drink by saying "good physical health is all well and fine, but once the novelty wears off what are you left with? -- a life without fun."
This brutally honest approach to life is the theme running through all the stories in "Rum River." Fraser doesn't mince words and he doesn't pull punches.
The people he writes about are, for the most part, rough around the edges and plagued by problems.
Together with the aforementioned writer, whose drinking bouts often leave him depressed and unapproachable, there is Tommy Waggoner, a drunken old reprobate who lives in a "rough-shingled smelt shanty, measuring seven feet by seven feet;" Lena, "a raw-skinned woman with untidy hair and a toothless smile -- sitting smoking at the kitchen table which was covered with dirty dishes." Hazen, a pulp mill worker, fired for drinking on the job who sits in a tavern waiting to grab an unsuspected fellow drinker and regale him with stories about how he nearly became a Hollywood scriptwriter; and Eva, a former nurse who big mistake was falling in love with the wrong man.
Yet, despite their shortcomings, their addictions and their refusal to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, these people live by their own code of ethics.
If Tommy has money, he is always willing to help out a friend, and Eva stoically deals with her husband's shortcomings. They accept others for what they are, warts and all. They roll with the punches and expect little or nothing out of life.
"Rum River" is Fraser's first book of fiction since 1978 when he was short-listed for a Governor General's Award. Too bad it took him so long to put the stories he has written over the years into a collection.
Had he been more prolific or ambitious, he could probably have achieved the type of recognition given to another New Brunswick author, David Adams Richards.
Fraser's writing is perceptive, insightful and magnetic. Driven by the need to tell it like it is, he refuses to shelter from the hard rain of reality.
Yet despite the raw subject matter, his stories are laced with humour and his prose in compelling.
"Wonderland," for instance, in which a man falsely accused of rape is freed by the hand of fate, leaves the reader feeling light-hearted, while "Caught," the tale of a young boy molested by a pedophile, is a gut-wrencher. Fraser is a skilled storyteller.
You may not understand what motivates some of his characters but I guarantee, you will not easily forget them.
This photo is here for two reasons. It shows the author as he looked while writer-in-residence at Fredericton High School in the mid-nineties, during the time he was working on Rum River. And it shows how he looked when disguised as a man without a beard. (Photo by Stanya)
As can be seen from this snapshot, it apparently wasn't the only time he wore such a disguise. (Photographer unknown)
And speaking of Black River Bridge, here we see (or almost see) the author in his one-time residence there. With him are two renowned Newfoundland artists who were guests for the night. From l. to r., Stewart Montgomerie, Raymond Fraser and Gerald Squires.
Caught in another beardless moment, the author relaxes aboard Spanish Jack in the summer of 1972. This photo was used on the back cover of his first book of fiction, The Black Horse Tavern. (Photo by Roman Gordy)
The Black Horse Tavern was published in Montreal by Ingluvin Publications in 1973. The book comprises a novella (The Quebec Prison) and nine stories, and received such great reviews in newspapers all across Canada that it sold out in a few months and was never reprinted -- until now! (see new edition below) (Cover photo by Raymond Fraser)
"A highly original voice that is occasionally sad, sometimes very comic. A real pleasure to read." ALAN DAWE, Vancouver Sun
"Rattling good yarns without managed thrills and contrived tension, The Black Horse Tavern is the reflection of a man who has lived a life far from quiet desperation. Like Fraser's poetry, it is relentless, subtle, disturbing, bearing the stamp of immediately recognizable talent and nifty writing." JOHN RICHMOND, Montreal Star
"All ten stories in The Black Horse Tavern bear the Fraser touch: gutsy realism, originality, and humour. The effect is hilarious, moving, and sad. It's quite a book." BETTY SHAPIRO, Montreal Gazette
"Fraser's characters are so strong and so very accurate that the reader remembers them and will for some time. A good book, one I would recommend." BLAINE MARCHAND, The Canadian Review
"Raymond Fraser happens to be one of the liveliest and most entertaining writers in the country." ALDEN NOWLAN, Telegraph-Journal
The new revised edition of THE BLACK HORSE TAVERN. Published in the spring of 2014 by Lion's Head Press, it features a new Introduction by the author. Scroll down for more about it.
That's it for book covers for now, except for the next one. It's called Before You're A Stranger, and as sole representative of the poetry faction it might (I fear) attempt to sneak in some humble comments on the author as poet.
Some comments on about various Fraser poetry collections...
"I read the book from cover to cover — I found the verses so delightful I couldn't put it down until I finished. The everyday subjects and events the poems deal with ring so true."
— T.C. "Tommy" Douglas
"Fraser notices so much and responds with feeling and humor, and it's all so accessible to the reader. There isn't a poem in the book that isn't worth reading."
— Alan Pearson
"Unfailingly interesting and impossible to put down once I started. Wonderful stuff!"
— Louis Dudek
"I've never been a big fan of poetry, but I enjoyed Before You're A Stranger immensely. The humour helps of course, but I go to it to get a little relief from (or perspective on) everyday living."
(In the late seventies, while doing a reading in Halifax, Irving Layton was asked who in his estimation were the best of the younger poets in the country. He said there were three: Patrick Lane, Seymour Mayne, and Raymond Fraser.)
Another rare poetry book you might want to pick up
next time you're shopping is Macbride Poems.
It's not a long read, only twelve pages, and is available
at Amazon.ca. When last checked it was listed as follows:
Macbride Poems (Paperback)
by Raymond Fraser (Author)
Publisher: Wild East Press
Available from these sellers:
1 used & new available: CDN$ 794.92
Frobisher Books, USA
TIMES-TRANSCRIPT STORY ON THE NEW EDITION OF THE BANNONBRIDGE MUSICIANS
The young author with his sisters Helen and Carmel, on Cunard Street in Chatham, New Brunswick, with St. Michael's Catholic church in the background.