Dodo Ink is an exciting new independent press that’s publishing daring fiction which doesn’t fit into the catalogues of more mainstream publishers. I was delighted to contribute to their Kickstarter campaign last year because I know the people behind it are committed and serious readers who want to bring out vibrant and challenging new literature. So I’m thrilled to read their first publication “Dodge and Burn” by Seraphina Madsen which is simultaneously a fable about two sisters Eugenie and Camille who live under the control of a sadistic stepfather doctor, a mystery about a lost heiress, a psychedelic road trip about two lovers on the run from gangsters/the law and a mystical meditation on space/time/being. It’s energetic, feverish writing takes you on a spectacularly wild journey.
The novel begins with Eugenie’s bizarre account about her mother’s death when a group of bees fiercely attack her. She and her sister are subsequently taken to her mother’s grand house in Maine where their sadistic guardian Dr Vargas subjects them to torturous experiments including fixing electric collars around their necks and making them kill and eat their pet rabbits. Tantalizingly the house contains a number of libraries whose books the sisters eagerly devour but there is one library which is forbidden to them. The sisters are made to stay in different rooms, but read to each other through a ventilation shaft. They engage each other with literature as varied as William S Burroughs, Henry James and Nabokov as well as a number of mystical and scientific writings. They formulate systems of drawing upon ritualistic behaviour to gather spiritual strength and plot to escape from their deranged guardian/captor.
When the sisters become unexpectedly separated, Eugenie spends her life trying to locate Camille and embarks on a path towards a kind of enlightenment or unveiling of the hidden deities which secretly control our reality. She’s an almost supernaturally strong individual who seems impervious to poisoning or overdosing from the phenomenal amount of drugs she consumes. She’s highly intelligent, well-read, an expert poker player and gymnast. Her partner in crime is Benoît, a man she marries and nicknames Venus Acid Boy (after he hilariously mishears the Bjork song Venus as a Boy). They gamble in Vegas and win so dramatically that casino thugs set upon them. Their adventure takes them across the country having encounters with candy ravers who subsist off from a diet of Pez and neighbours who grow a substantial amount of marijuana. Eugenie’s intense drug-fuelled and sexual experiences take her to other planes of consciousness which might or might not be real: “For all I knew I was my own hallucination.” All the while she’s intent on reuniting with her lost sister.
There is another layer to the story where Eugenie herself is missing and her estranged father who is an Antarctic explorer has offered a substantial reward for her recovery. Her notebooks are discovered in an ancient cavern in Spain. Here are Paleolithic cave paintings which inspired the surreal artist Miró. The quest to discover what happened to both her and her sister Camille are layered into this larger frame. It creates a fascinating array of stories which feed into each other and straddle different periods of time and various locations. This style reminded me somewhat of Lina Wolff’s wildly creative novel “Bret Easton Ellis and The Other Dogs” published earlier this year. Similarly, in “Dodge and Burn” episodic adventures are related with great fervour. An intensity of experience and thought dominates over traditional narrative flow. This left me dazzled and awe-struck, but at the same time I wished for the story to slow down at some points to linger and expand parts such as the bizarre perversity of Dr Vargas’ child-rearing methods and the sisters’ joint strategies for surviving them.
Seraphina Madsen is a highly intriguing new author whose writing encompasses both outrageously fantastic and movingly realistic modes of narrative. Eugenie’s intensity of experience is vividly rendered as is her emotional quest to reunite with her lost sister. It’s made all the more meaningful if you read Madsen’s process behind writing this book and her personal experiences here. This novel gives a highly amplified version of the painful injustices of childhood and our quest for deeper meaning in life. It’s a bold and imaginative debut from this new author and promising new press.