If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display, the wonderfully odd new collection from Fredericton writer, editor, and poet Nick Thran, is ostensibly rooted in the world of bookstores and booksellers, but it refuses to be limited by those parameters. The book comes to incorporate meditations on books (naturally), trees, art, and knowledge communities, as well as fanciful literary criticism, sharply observed fiction, non-bookstore memoir, poetry, puppetry, and more. It’s a disconcerting, powerful, and winning reading experience.
The book begins with the first of three essays bearing the same title as the book (the phrase “If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display” will elicit a frisson in anyone who has spent time as a bookseller – the noblest of professions) but it doesn’t begin with a bookstore. Instead, Thran writes, in the book’s opening lines, “To live in the micro-city of Fredericton and ignore the presence of trees would be like living in Manhattan and pretending there are no people.” The second paragraph introduces his work as a bookseller, by way of the tree-themed bestsellers of recent years. “Like other reading communities across the country, we are fascinated by the mycorrhizal network, a network now commonly known as the wood wide web.”
The book’s opening sets the tone and approach for the volume: rather than addressing things head-on, the book weaves its way through a network of associations and references, leaping from point to point in a manner that only reveals itself fully in retrospect. What do Fredericton’s trees have to do with the Armory Show in Manhattan, poets Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, and “forty suitcases” that belong to “an oil oligarch and his family”? Nothing is linear or straightforward.
And often, things are surprising. “Collected Trout,” a lengthy history and exploration of the work of Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop that dominates the centre of the book, seems initially out of place (and, to be frank, somewhat surreal), but the network of associations incorporates the company’s ideas of artistic passion and drive (puppetry is an art form as quixotic, in many respects, as bookselling itself) within the larger context. The essay becomes, through this web, one of the highlights of the collection.
The associative power of the book is also clearly evident in the short story “Protocol,” set in the world of tree planters, in particular the “good guys” on “Pastor Jonathan’s team,” as opposed to “the same group of hippies” the narrator had “hitched her wagon to last summer.” While the tree connection is clear, one might have to have been a bookseller to recognize that this summer’s tree planters are next winter’s part-time bookstore clerks. ’Twas ever thus.
Owing to the eclectic nature of the collection, it may take the reader some time to find their rhythm with the book, to find their place within its condensed 120-page sprawl. It’s more than worth the time and the effort. Every reader will find their own preferred corner, and sections that unexpectedly delight. Like the best of bookstores, If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display, creates its own world, a pocket universe, larger on the inside, and bursting with life.