Friday Reviews: Voluntary Madness by Vicki Hendricks

Voluntary Madness

Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is known for her “reverse noir,” populated by women who should know better getting involved with “homme fatales.” This time out, young Juliette is living in Key West, Florida, with her boyfriend Punch, who is writing a novel. They are living off her father’s estate for a year at the end of which they will kill themselves. Punch has chosen Key West because it was Hemingway’s home for a time. Only Voluntary Madness seems to be more Kerouac than Hemingway.

And yet as their final day approaches, Juliette senses their year of Bohemian living is all wrong. They go from posing as a blind man and his wife (with the world’s smallest guide dog, a pug) and Juliette flashing tourists to get a reaction to robbing restaurants. All this is material for Punch’s novel. Yet during this time, Juliette meets a lesbian witch named Isis, who falls for her. Isis a a calm port for Juliette, and yet she cannot convince herself to leave Punch even when Punch seems hell bent on killing himself.

This is probably the most atypical of Hendricks’ books. It has the Florida setting, but it seems less noir than an homage to On the Road. There is that total hedonistic mission Punch and Juliette have where even their deaths are intended to be an act of rebellion. And yet, unlike Sal Paradise, Juliette realizes there’s something else. It’s a long, hard journey to that point.