Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas
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.
Steve McCaffery (illustrations by Clelia Scala)
Alice in Plunderland
“… perhaps even within the dream of Plunderland long ago: and how eventually she would sell them hache to feed their own, now desperate, insatiable needs and find an inexplicably sadistic pleasure in all their evening agonies, screaming and scratching in unbearable withdrawals, remembering her own child-life and those happy junkie days.”
Steve McCaffery’s new book, Alice in Plunderland, explores the inner depths of an addicts mind as Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) might experience it. Written to the same structure and tune of Carroll’s original 1865 story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the reader is no longer left to ponder what Underland would be like through the eyes of a desperate junkie. And, as one might expect, following McCaffery’s version of Wonderland is as much of an undertaking and painstakingly difficult as any fiend’s attempt for an easy score when in dire need to use. The first and last chapters of Steve McCaffery’s Alice in Plunderland are the only two that a laymen—or anyone not chronically stoned—could follow without turning to the Joual Drug Slang Dictionary or A Short Glossary of Plunderland Terms for Grown-Ups.
“She was tripping out with Timothy Leary at a Vietnam War Protest in Tahir Square, but suddenly Adolf Hitler appeared in Pink Chiffon leotards waving a Nigerian Gonfalon. She hastily put down the bottle, saying to herself “Holy Crap! That’s quite enough …”
Alice finds herself in Plunderland after eyeing a young bank teller “with shocking pink hair” run by saying "Oh pshit! Oh phsit! I shall be late!” with a wad of hundred dollar bills in her hand, which would more than supply Alice’s coke habit for the immediate future. The teller jumps into the sewer via a manhole down the street from Alice’s spent ATM, and naturally, Alice follows. What ensues is a series of misadventures, which are an exact recreation of the course that Alice would have taken had she been in Underland (Wonderland) and not the aptly named Plunderland. McCaffery takes artistic license by adding a few characters: a mule named Damian, a coke-head executive named Troy, Ronnie the cop, Mavis the hooker, Father Patrick the priest, Cardinal Cruz the king of cocaine, Melinda the coke queen, and many others.
“Predictably, the junkie from Cheshire grinned when he saw Alice. He looked alive, good-natured, she judged: Still he had way too many track lines (that made him appear like an aerial view of Grand Central Station), and a great many missing teeth, plus ever so many lithium scabs, so she felt he ought to be treated with respect. 'Cheshire junkie,' she commenced her converse rather guardedly, as she did not at all know whether Aiden [Cheshire junkie] would dig the appellation: however, he only grinned a little wider …”
McCaffery takes the opportunity to employ several pop culture and political references, which kept me amused particularly when they appeared in the unlikeliest of places: “... I’m getting tired of the frigging crap. I vote the young lady tells us an addict story. Like the late William S. Burroughs did via his cut-up method of narrative composition.”
McCaffery’s exceptional use of association devices and prattle settles the reader by reminding them where Plunderland ends and reality actually begins:
“… taken by her mama and papa with her older sister several times to see The Godfather, a 1972 award-winning crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by Albert S. Ruddy, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and based on the best-selling novel by Mario Puzo, an Italian American writer born in 1920 to a poor family living in Campania, Italy.”
However, I still could not be sure with any absolute certainty who Steve McCaffery’s target audience might be— poetry aficionados? Alice freaks? Steve McCaffery’s transformation of Carroll’s original work is enough to pick up this unusual and sardonically respectful tribute to a timeless classic, and I imagine that anyone who has a sincere appreciation for Lewis Carroll’s 1865 publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the 1886 publication of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground--I have a collection of over 30 different editions—would enjoy sitting down and marveling at the level of McCaffery’s creative and bizarre transcription as well as Clelia Scala’s collaged juxtaposition of John Tenniel’s original artwork. It’s just a little easier for me to imagine a reader finishing the last paragraph, closing the book, setting the book on the nightstand, and asking, “What the f$&k just happened?!”
Nomadic Press Review
AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING BY ROBERT MILTNER
And Your Bird Can Sing
Bottom Dog Press
A review I wrote for Nomadic Press about Robert Miltner's, "And Your Bird Can Sing."
Robert Miltner’s And Your Bird Can Sing captured me as soon as I had read the last line of the first story, “We Can Work It Out.” These stories are all inspired by, and named after, Beatles songs. I imagine Miltner sitting with his pen in hand, leaning over a desk, and staring into the deckled, yellowed pages of an old leather notebook, The Beatles amplified over aged speakers throughout the room. A number of the stories end abruptly, as if Miltner allowed himself one more sentence and then simply lifted his pen as each song came to an end. Miltner crafts his stories with a seemingly simple yet arched complexity that develops from an attentive understanding of John, Paul and George’s unique storytelling, and the author’s caustic handling of social and political absurdity through satire has culminated in a brilliant collection.
Only 30 pages into the collection, I was stunned and inspired by Robert Miltner’s use of subtle, descriptive devices that stimulate our emotional sensitivities, not only as a means to feature our surroundings but also as a means of exposing our sentimentality through the use of his ingenious poetic metaphor as often illustrated in "Drive My Car," the second story of the collection.
“Savoy Truffle” characterizes the demands of our society for plastic. Miltner’s characters, Jody and Will, suffer the implanted ideas of consumerism by a society that corrupts their understanding of success and accomplishment, and the two are left dismantling not only what they believe to be divine within themselves but also the idea of perfection and self-image. In one way or another, we can all relate with Miltner’s exaggerated account of suburban life. Some aspects, however, may be closer to home than many of us might be willing to admit, as is portrayed in the following excerpt: “Will and Jody go back home to the new two-story house in their development, Willow Crossing, surrounded by oceans of grass and no trees, looking carefully for their house number so they can tell their house apart from the others on the block. As they enter, a golden retriever whose name they do not know--hello, boy they say—waits in the living room ...” Contradiction and consumerism—brilliant.
And Your Bird Can Sing is an expression of Robert Miltner’s capacity as a writer, and no story describes enthusiasm and sorrow in this collection better than “Penny Lane.” Miltner’s usage of abstraction and metaphor to depict both the elation felt and the passing of time is evident in a simple, yet beautiful utterance: “while the leaves fall from trees out of sheer excitement.” The excitement is expressed upon witnessing presidential hopeful, John F. Kennedy, driving by in his convertible caravan as he campaigns in Ohio. A sixth grader recalls the moment as if “a lone Roman candle has gone off, one bright burst of sound and light and significance.” The same young sixth grader, only four years later, then recalls a similar feeling while watching President John F. Kennedy’s caravan in Dallas, Texas, as a, “second burst of sound like another Roman candle … tearing a hole in the fabric of [my] childhood."
As I finished the book, I applauded Miltner’s storytelling abilities via my own peals of laughter. I sat staring at the acknowledgments, slightly disoriented still from my appreciation of the stories that I had just read. When I realized that I had finished the book, I was neither excited nor upset. I simply laid the book on the table, nodded my head, and pictured reading it aloud to friends and family, picking through the stories as if playing "eeny, meeny, miny, moe." Recitations while driving, walking through the park, or playfully riding the merry-go-round after years of being "too old"—the stories soon lent themselves as accompaniment to imaginative escapades.
With every story, Miltner exercises incredible descriptive foresight and leaves nothing on the table. There is no way to know what to expect from page to page—the author has created a collection of short stories that rivals nearly any that I’ve read. The stories range in length from half a page to nine pages (most are closer to one or two), so finishing them on the bus or subway ride to work or your lunch hour is completely plausible. And Your Bird Can Sing will remain a collection that I’ll never forget and will sit bedside or on my writing desk until I unwillingly leave it on the coffeehouse table or sorrowfully part with it when placing it in someone else's hands.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.