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Buzzed Books #85 by Drew Barth

Matthew Vollmer’s Permanent Exhibit

Think of a thought process and all the ways it branches out and around. The thoughts rarely stay in one place or along one singular train of thought for too long. It’s that aspect of his own mind that Matthew Vollmer examines in Permanent Exhibit. In this essay collection, he looks to examine not only what is happening in his mind, but what’s happening around it at all times.

permanent exhibit

The organic nature through which Vollmer shares himself in this collection really helps to reinforce both its structure and how the collection presents its content. We see first in “Status Update” the scene being set: it’s 2016 and this is like going through a Facebook feed. It’s a nonstop barrage of information until it cuts off. The essay is short, sweet, and gives us the founding seed through which the rest of the collection branches and grows. From there a reader is given Vollmer’s life during these essays—little bits of bike riding, the death industry, Grand Theft Auto, ruminations on the professor who changed his life. The essays build like concentric rings in a tree as they grow and crest upward.

It’s hard to talk about Permanent Exhibit without mentioning the collection’s structure. Forty-one essays and not a single paragraph break to be found. I love it. And for a few reasons. This helps to reinforce the idea of the mental process through which our minds go through when thinking—there’s no mental paragraph breaks, the brain simply takes a topic and runs with it. But in contrast, it helps to create this kind of focus throughout the essays. We as readers are engrossed in the words on the page because there’s nowhere for our eyes to wander and break from the flow. The essays are like a slideshow of images: focused and singular until we’re enamored with the next one. But they always stick to us no matter the subject. The structure presents us with a slab of words that makes us want to remember and devour the words before us so we can keep some of the beauty in them for a while longer.

And ultimately everything done with the essays is something that Vollmer does incredibly well throughout this collection—he makes the idea of the personal permanent. While some aspects of an individual change, there’s always this concrete, personal foundation that will subsist forever. And what Vollmer typifies here is what essay collections are: this deeply individual examination of the self and how that self interacts with the world around it.

The mind we’re peering into throughout this collection is one of compassion and principle. To go through this collection is to explore what is essentially Vollmer: the father, the husband, the man who bikes and plays video games. But his mind’s eye, the lens through which we see it all, always casts a light on small moments like enduring terrible pop music after his son’s dental checkup, the circus sideshow acts he saw as a child, or the articles his father emails him. He creates the meaning through observation.

It’s a universal experience, but the idea of this collection, his collection—the exhibit of the self and the personal permanence of the self—creates this fascinating look at Vollmer’s mind.


Drew Barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.