1766 Trees, books, meditations
If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display
by Nick Thran
Gibsons: Nightwood Editions, 2023
$22.95 / 9780889714489
Reviewed by Sheldon Goldfarb
What a quiet charming title, If It Gets Quiet Later On … And Nick Thran, the poet and bookseller, uses it more than once to open sections of this collection and just to allude to it in what he says. It is like a Wagnerian motif recurring through the work. Quiet and yet … To make a display is literally to arrange books in a bookstore window in creative ways, sometimes to imitate the look of a forest.
Nick Thran is much interested in forests and trees and books about trees, so much so that the reader suddenly thinks, Wait a minute, books murder trees. Is that lurking there? Less quiet things seem to lurk in this book, ready to pounce; even the quiet title, making a display, doesn’t that also mean making a fuss?
And trees, those wonderful trees, they can be dangerous too. Thran worries about branches falling on his house, on his child’s room; he develops an animosity towards Nature — and this in a book that seems quite Thoreau-like at times in celebrating Nature. Everything is there, and its opposite; everything is its opposite.
Even a bookstore can be a place of violence, as we see in one of the later pieces in the book, “Epilogue Books,” and violence seems to lurk in this quiet book, for instance in the one piece set in BC, in a tree-planting area, where the spiritual tree planters are also military, and where the heroine is in mourning for a murdered friend.
Mostly the book takes place in Fredericton, the City of Stately Elms, where Thran now lives and works in a bookstore, and there are vignettes from Toronto, where he quit a hotel job because of an overbearing oligarch with forty suitcases, and from Madrid, where an anglophone visitor somehow gets a job in a Spanish bookstore. And then there is the odd central section about puppet-makers which perhaps connects because puppets are made of wood (and also kill trees?), and which includes a description of Famous Puppet Death Scenes which are sad and funny and existential.
He sees a book of his own on display and is strangely disappointed — because it is mostly ignored by the customers — and then there is Patrick Lane, who tells a poetry workshop to sniff and feel their first book, but then collapses in tears because that’s all you have.
Everything is at cross purposes here, or doubled or conflicted: quiet but violent, trees but books, life-giving but tragic, full of energy but dying. He likes seeing good books leave his bookstore to make their way in the world, but they leave a blank spot in the displays, and then (mysteriously) he is sweeping up leaves, and you think, when leaves fall, that’s not life but death, or is it? There is always another copy of the book he can put out, just like there will be more leaves (unless you cut down the trees altogether).
And maybe you end up in a mental hospital like the translator F, who has so much knowledge yet focuses on complaints about others stealing his things and refuses to do the assignments in his writing workshop, and in the background someone is screaming about the indignity of existence.
But then there is Patrick Lane, recovering from alcoholism and becoming a better person. This is a wispy, impressionistic book, deeper than it first appears, a slight thing like a poem, but a poem. When Nick Thran read one of Patrick Lane’s poems, he read too quickly and missed its meaning. A poem needs to be read again. This book too, in order to appreciate its combination of blood and meditation, doubt and life-giving work.
And then there is another extended section on saving a city from flooding, on rebuilding it. There’s a park for rollerbladers and bikers and even a new opera house. It seems a triumph, but the story ends with the opera house under water and the main performer singing from a canoe. Is it a triumph or a disaster? Or is everything just a bit of both? Perhaps that is what Nick Thran is trying to tell us in this charming little book, full of parentheses and repetitions and a character named Odd.
Sheldon Goldfarb is the author of The Hundred-Year Trek: A History of Student Life at UBC (Heritage House, 2017), reviewed by Herbert Rosengarten. He has been the archivist for the UBC student society (the AMS) for more than twenty years and has also written a murder mystery and two academic books on the Victorian author William Makepeace Thackeray. His murder mystery, Remember, Remember (Bristol: UKA Press), was nominated for an Arthur Ellis crime writing award in 2005. His latest book, Sherlockian Musings: Thoughts on the Sherlock Holmes Stories (London: MX Publishing, 2019), was reviewed in the BC Review by Patrick McDonagh. Originally from Montreal, Sheldon has a history degree from McGill University, a master’s degree in English from the University of Manitoba, and two degrees from the University of British Columbia: a PhD in English and a master’s degree in archival studies. Editor’s note: Sheldon Goldfarb has recently reviewed books by Susan McIver, James Gifford, Alan Twigg, Yosef Wosk & Nachum Tim Gidal, Andrew Chesham & Laura Farina, and Seth Rogen, and he has contributed a comedic poem, The Ramen, based on Poe’s “The Raven.”
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster