When Bob Dylan told us, “It’s doom alone that counts,” he might have been anticipating Melia McClure’s tragicomic debut novel. In the first sentence, the narrator, Velvet, hangs herself; all subsequent action is post-mortem. Like Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which opens with the narrator waking up as a bug, the plot’s trajectory goes straight down. McClure’s protagonist has more self-determination than poor Gregor, but not much.
After hanging herself, Velvet wakes up naked in a room that is decorated like her childhood bedroom and resembles a jail cell. The closet contains a single set of clothes. Besides a bed, there is a mirror, a desk, and a pad of paper and a pen. Is this heaven, hell, or somewhere in between?
Soon she discovers she’s not alone. A neighbour, named Brinkley, is in the next cell, and they pass notes back and forth under the door. The mirrors in their rooms show scenes from each other’s lives. Velvet and Brinkley start off as strangers, but move toward something resembling intimacy.
Despite this growing relationship, Velvet is often alone with her thoughts, and we learn much about her sad, tragic life. She is an engaging narrator: cultured, self-aware, and often funny despite the disturbing circumstances. Existential and philosophical questions are inevitable in this context; McClure addresses them directly and wisely avoids simple solutions.
A clever novel with a unique approach, The Dephi Room both challenges and entertains. Though the story takes place after Velvet’s death, the characters are full of life, painted with emotional depth and affirming the wild complexity that is the human condition.