Cover image for Voluntary madness
Voluntary madness
Hendricks, Vicki.
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Publication Information:
London : Serpent's Tail, [2000]

Physical Description:
215 pages ; 23 cm
A dying man and his younger girlfriend make a pact to live a wild life and write a book about it. They give themselves one year, planning to end it all at the end of that year.
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Punch is slowly dying from alcohol abuse and diabetes. With his adoring girlfriend Juliette he makes a pact to live a wild life in Key West, collecting material for a book Punch feels compelled to write before he ends it all a year later.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Hendricks, the author of Miami Purity (1995), perhaps the most impressive noir debut in the last decade, revisits the dark side with two short novels reprising her favorite theme--women in the grip of sexual obsession. Ramona Romano, in Iguana Love, will be immediately recognizable to any noir fan: the flawed heroine who wants more and gets less. Ramona, more flawed than most, abandons her fall-asleep-on-the-couch husband for the sexual heat emanating from a Biscayne Bay bar called Seabirds, home to scuba divers and bodybuilders. Soon Ramona has rented scuba gear and started chugging steroids--all to remake herself in the image of Enzo, the most dangerous of the divers. It's a short leap--or dive--from there to helping Enzo retrieve packets of heroin left at the bottom of the Caribbean. Hendricks' knack for capturing sexual energy on the page is as evident here as it was in Miami Purity, but this time the lady-in-heat is less sympathetic, and her "I couldn't help myself" refrain starts to sound almost whiny. (Then there's the bit with the iguana, but let's leave that alone.) Still, the diving scenes are tautly written, and the noir feeling is appropriately all-encompassing. Repetition is a problem, too, in Voluntary Madness, but here the doomed lovers, twentysomething naif Juliette and alcoholic writer Punch, are sympathetic in that antisocial, rule-breaking way typical of so many noir couples (see Sailor and Lula in Barry Gifford's Wild at Heart). "It's hard to be unusual in Key West," Juliette complains, but that doesn't stop her from trying. The idea is to come up with outrageous pranks that give Punch material for his novel-in-progress and keep him entertained enough to postpone the couple's plan to kill themselves on Halloween. Unfortunately, the cavalcade of increasingly dangerous high jinks grows tiresome after a bit, and we never really understand Punch's motivation (he exists more as a plot device than a character). On the other hand, Juliette is a compelling if pathetic figure (gender aside, she's reminiscent of Sal Mineo in Rebel without a Cause), and her obsession with Punch rings achingly true. Hendricks' talent is undeniable, but perhaps she needs to branch out a little. Her female characters could use a good night's sleep. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mimicking the hard-edged cynicism of James M. Cain and reminiscent of James Haley Chase, Hendricks (Iguana Love) probes the psychosocial baggage of two outside-the-mainstream characters intent on creating art out of the wrecks of their lives. Against a pornographic Rorschach of unwashed sex fueled by marijuana and alcohol, the author offers up a quixotic, marathon Chamber of Commerce tour of the eateries and tourist attractions of Key West. Sexually abused by her father since she was nine, 22-year-old ex-Cracker Barrel waitress Juliette has had little happiness in her life. When she meets 44-year-old half-Jamaican, half-Italian, diabetic, alcoholic Punch in Fort Pierce, she falls desperately in love with the self-styled novelist. Using proceeds from Juliette's abusive father's life insurance, the ill-starred couple migrate to Key West and make a pact that they will live out the year (and their bankroll) indulging themselves sensually and instigating "experiences" that Punch will chronicle in a novelDart imitates life. The plot takes a more serious turn when Punch accidentally kills a security guard at the Hemingway House, where the two adventure-seekers are trying to have sex. Having squandered one-third of their remaining capital on a used motorcycle with a ruined engine, they become "Burrito Bandidos", holding up popular Island eateries for sustenance. Copious, steamy sex scenes; gritty, Bukowskiesque characters; and popular Key West hangouts definitely focus the book's appeal and make this a Leaving Las Vegas on a tight budget. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved