Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas
Robert Detman, author
Documentary filmmaker Harry Ogletree lives in the shadow of his friend Basher Thomas, who gained fame as an internationally renowned photojournalist. Two decades on from Basher’s disappearance in the jungles of Guatemala, Harry sifts through an archive of Basher’s documents, crafting a narrative about his friend’s life. Reconstructing Basher’s dangerous assignations, from obscure African kraals to Middle East war zones, Harry investigates their shared past as he uncovers keys to Basher’s motivations. Making a pilgrimage to the site of Basher’s death, Harry will ultimately confront the malleability of memory and the inescapable desires of his past. Capturing the enigmatic mystery of Roberto Bolaño, the cold war intrigue of Denis Johnson, and the harsh and revelatory landscapes of William T. Vollmann, IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF BASHER THOMAS is a masterful and evocative exploration into the American psyche.
Detman pulls together various forms and styles in an ambitious novel composed of transcripts, letters, and footnotes, told in sharp prose. On August 17, 1982, renowned photojournalist Nathan “Basher” Thomas is fatally shot. Decades later, Harry Ogletree, one of Basher’s closest friends, decides to write a screenplay about the murder. Harry visits Basher’s mother to speak with her about the project and collect a box of Basher’s personal effects. The contents of the box spur recollections of a road trip across the Mexican Baja peninsula, arguments in Michigan, and drug abuse in Paris, and also provide insight into Basher’s death. Harry follows these clues to Rancho Nacon, a mysterious Guatemalan jungle villa with an enigmatic caretaker. On his pilgrimage, Harry hopes the people he questions and memories he uncovers will help to deconstruct the mystery of Basher Thomas. Because of the book’s unconventional structure, the narrative is fragmented. Although the disjointedness complements Harry’s fractured search for information and meaning, the story’s momentum is often slowed by passages that are needed to prevent confusion and explain earlier elements of the novel. The best scenes focus on the intimate details and relationships between the characters. Detman’s stylistic choices succeed in the moments when Harry’s memories and Basher’s documents blur into the present, layering various methods of storytelling to create a fresh and intriguing work. (BookLife)