D.M. Fraser’s Brilliant ‘Class Warfare’

The Canadian writer’s richly poetic story collection about the radical anti-establishment of the 1970s comes to life in a celebrated first U.S. printing.

| March 2013

  • Class Warfare
    This new edition of “Class Warfare” sheds new light D.M. Fraser, a brilliant, unsung writer who became an underground legend in Vancouver’s 1970s literary scene. With technical mastery and misanthropic humor, the story collection comes alive as a gloriously written call to arms.
    Cover Courtesy Arsenal Pulp Press
  • DM Fraser
    D.M. Fraser was a writer of great talent who died at the age of thirty-eight in Vancouver, in 1985. He published two collections of stories during his lifetime and left the world a small archive of journals and drafts and parts of a novel.
    Photo By John Reeves

  • Class Warfare
  • DM Fraser

First published in 1976 (but never before released in the United States) and comprised of assertive missives and richly hued character studies, Class Warfare (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012) is a gloriously written call to arms firmly rooted in the politics and culture of the 1970s. Here, the late D. M. Fraser deftly pens a paean to the disenfranchised about the possibilities of “the sweetness of life” through poetic fiction. The following excerpt is an introduction to the book, written by Fraser’s friend and co-editor, Canadian writer and Arsenal Pulp Press co-founder Stephen Osborne. 

On an afternoon in the summer of 1972, in Vancouver during a heatwave, the author of Class Warfare, then an unpublished writer, collapsed in the street while carrying a case of Old Style beer from the liquor store to his basement apartment half a mile away. His knees had begun to wobble, he told his friends later in the beer parlour, and he just managed to sit down on the curb before blacking out. A case of beer in those days consisted of twelve bottles, a heavy weight for someone of his physique, for he was a small-statured, ancient man even at the early age of twenty-six. When he woke up, he was lying on a stretcher in an ambulance, and the case of Old Style beer was, to his great relief, lying on the floor of the ambulance beside his shoes.

He left the hospital a few days later with a supply of nitroglycerin tablets, and his shoes and his case of beer were restored to him, as he said to his friends, intact. From then on he held ambulance drivers in the highest regard, as he did taxi drivers, bus drivers, and street poets.

D.M. Fraser lived for years in Vancouver in a dark, illegal suite in the basement of a California bungalow in a remote neighbourhood shaded by elm trees or oak trees and filled with the sound of lawnmowers on Sundays—a neighbourhood ignored by literature and loved by the Rhododendron League—and forever illuminated by his presence there, where he conceived of life on, or near, Masterpiece Avenue, in a narrative of monumental living written against and away from his sombre refuge and the life of student poverty that he never escaped even when his student life had been over for many years and he had relocated to a railroad flat above the junk store on Main Street, assisted by friends and followers, worriers about his health and admirers of his generous learned talk, people who wished to sustain him in life as long as possible, lenders of funds and good dope, professional drivers and hefters of books in boxes and his collection of years of the New Yorker. His sentences made you want to take them home with you:

Janey and Ambrose and Spiffy and I live on Masterpiece Avenue, in the historic site; we have had invitations to move elsewhere, generous offers, but we have always refused them. It is a thing of some consequence, after all, to be where we are, to have stayed here. In times of restlessness, we take pleasure in this; we stumble trustfully through the barren opulent rooms, fondling woodwork, plaster, chimney tile, groping the scabrous face of history. 

“Masterpiece Avenue,” the second story in this collection, was first published in January of 1973, in the fourth issue of 3-Cent Pulp, a four-page literary zine published by Pulp Press Book Publishers, the “underground” literary press (now Arsenal Pulp Press) that included D.M. Fraser in its editorial collective. Fraser had worked up notes for the story in the Richard Pender Restaurant, the White Rose Cafe, and the Marble Arch beer parlour, and then composed his final version late at night, directly on the photo-typesetting machine in the Pulp Press office. Several of the stories in this volume were written in this way, directly into the machine (only a single line of text visible at a time in a tiny LED window). In the morning someone better trained than he would take the light-tight cassette out of the typesetting machine and process the paper galley and hang it up to dry. “The Sweetness of Life,” “The Letters,” and “The Examination” appeared over a period of weeks and months, and constituted in the eyes of the astonished editors at Pulp Press a minor miracle: it seemed that nowhere in Canada, or in North America for that matter, had anyone encountered sentences and paragraphs like the ones that emerged from the keyboard of D.M. Fraser in 1973 and 1974.

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