“We were told that our mother’s life was exterminated by an attack of killer bees while vacationing in San Marcos, Mexico.” It’s not quite the opening line of the novel, but when a sentence such as this appears on the first page, you know you’re in for a treat.
Seraphina Madsen’s brilliant debut Dodge and Burn is also the first novel from new small press Dodo Ink, and it’s fair to say that as a first for both the author and publisher, it’s remarkable just how confident it is.
Eugenie Land is a missing heiress who’s mother is killed, and who winds up in the care of the strange and ruthless Dr Vargas. Eugenie and her sister Camille spend their days pursuing hobbies not limited to, but including remote viewing, telepathy, and growing poisonous plants. That is, until Camille vanishes, and Eugenie spends her life searching for her lost sister, alongside her French husband Benoit and her dog Hemingway.
Dodge and Burn comes across as a kind of American-road trip fever dream. There are elements of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas about it: the drug fuelled hallucinatory moments, and the desert landscape all bring to mind Hunter S Thompson’s book, but this is much more interesting than that, far more Lynchian, or Cronenbergian at times.
Madsen plays around with mythology from across all cultures in the US, from Native American traditions, to the Mothman urban legend, as well as superhero and comic book lore (there’s a great Dr Manhattan joke towards the climax too) and Madsen appears to be trying to create a novel that encompasses all of the strange contradictions of US culture, history and lore. If it were a dryer book, it could be seen as just that, a meditation on what it means to be American, and it would be interesting enough, but it is thankfully far more. Madsen’s prose is wild and fun, and the story is deliberately ramshackle, barraging from oddball set piece to oddball set piece. In particular, her dialogue is frequently hilarious, with lines like “No ritualistic sacrifice before le cafe. It’s sacred to a Frenchman,” ratcheting up the laughs.
It’s definitely not a book that is going to please everyone. It is a wild and often bizarre ride, and with that comes a need for the reader to let the book wash over them and take them on that ride with it. If you let it though, you’ll probably wind up enjoying it as much as I did.
Any Cop?: This is a deranged fever dream of a novel. It’s not for everyone, but for those who get swept up in all the madness, this will end up being one you pass on to every single friend.