Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas by Robert Detman

Robert Detman
Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas
November 2014
Oakland, CA
Figureground Press
240 pages
$16.00
ISBN-13: 9780692243497
Buy here

Robert Detman’s novel, Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas, is a thoughtfully formulated story that illustrates a unique display of the human condition. Detman’s strengths include a great aptitude to create and develop characters with depth enough to feel genuinely involved with, and receptive to, a lithe fluency of descriptive imagery. This is an incredibly complex story covering a range of topics from artistic expression, the philosophy of art, politics, ethics, and varying dynamics of psychoanalytic behaviorism.

I believe it is important to note that as with any character-driven story, Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas partially loiters through the first few chapters—they seem automated and somewhat contrived. However, shortly through the second part entitled "Memory," Detman’s writing style and skill at storytelling explode viciously—it took me equally as long to read the final 185 pages as it did to read the first 55, as I became totally absorbed. In "Memory," Detman truly begins to evolve his characters, Nathan “Basher” Thomas and Harry Ogletree, and does so through the use of appearance-driven devices, which allows Detman the opportunity to develop characters while also exercising his poetic usage of descriptive imagery and expressionism.

Detman takes on the burden of these issues phenomenally well, doing so indirectly through the subtle development of all of his characters.

The title character, Nathan “Basher” Thomas, is a photojournalist and indicates that he feels an internal conflict with photography as an art, as a form of political expression, and simply as a career. As a photojournalist, there is a point when art, propaganda, and expressionism can be manipulated; while on assignment covering social and political issues on a global scale, there are two attitudes that can be held toward a photographer: the unbiased observer concealed or hidden behind a camera or the subject of perception, in which case the photographer is no longer an objective preserver but a person who may be viewed, in some cases, as equal to those who may cause harm, and, in others, as a person doing nothing to help while people suffer—in any case, questions of ethics and culture will, of course, arise. Detman takes on the burden of these issues phenomenally well, doing so indirectly through the subtle development of all of his characters. It is not often that one encounters a writer who is comfortable and well-versed enough to challenge such issues and do so with such ease.

Harry Ogletree is, by default, the protagonist of Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas; the story is told both through Harry’s perspective and an unnamed narrator who shares Harry’s voice. Essentially, the growth of Harry as a character evolves without even his understanding because Detman has crafted the story in such a way that demands that Harry’s development is paramount to the development of the characters around him, including his life-long friend, Basher Thomas. The novel is ultimately an exploration of life and of death, the way the life of a single person might shape the lives of everyone around them, and the distinction created between our own perception of that person and the perception of others.

This is a novel that will stick with you because of its poetical means of exploring the human condition and Detman’s uncanny ability to weave beautiful, and haunting, imagery.

Detman has been compared to authors such as John Banville (The Sea, The Book of Evidence), Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy), and Denis Johnson (Train Dreams, Resuscitation of a Hang Man, Tree of Smoke). I also recognize the voice of Jack Kerouac, and the sudden appearance of grand footnotes toward the end rings of David Foster Wallace. This is the author's first novel, and it seems as if Detman felt comfortable exploring and experimenting with different styles—likely the voices of authors he had been reading before and during the writing of Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas. I initially doubted the comparison of Detman to authors such as John Banville, Paul Auster, and Denis Johnson—three of my favorites. However, after reading Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas, I have great aspirations for Detman as an author and believe that he will soon find himself welcomed in the ranks of such authorship. 

This is a novel that will stick with you because of its poetical means of exploring the human condition and Detman's uncanny ability to weave beautiful, and haunting, imagery.

James Bonner
Nomadic Press
Bonner is an author and writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bonner has been writing for the better part of ten years, and he is aiming to release a collection of short stories in the fall of 2015.