Colin McFadden-Roan's debut novel may be short, but it packs a powerful wallop all the same. Defying genre labels like mystery, thriller or comedy (all of which apply at different moments), The Woman is Dead is an hilarious gem of self-aware prose trying to puzzle itself out. Good new metafiction is hard to find, and McFadden-Roan's freshman effort shines.
A single character with amnesia awakens roped to a chair in an empty warehouse. Wiggling out of the bindings, he? she? discovers something with which to be entertained: several cabinets full of transcript files (mostly) concerning a missing exotic dancer named Sharon Devlin. Bracketed by impertinent comments from a first-person narrative, the story within a story within a story presents one curious layer after another for the reader to unwrap. Sharon Devlin is dead. Or is she?
A host of riotous characters road trip across the pages. A paranoiac convinced of a government conspiracy to control his mind via sonic waves kidnaps a bored suburbanite, who cheerfully kidnaps his captor right back. A young man who recognizes Sharon Devlin's missing-persons face from a strip club several weeks before her disappearance develops an obsession that pulls his hilariously snobbish friends into a reluctant fit of ameteur private detection. A lazy reporter looking to create sensation tries to pin Sharon Devlin's vanishing, maybe even murder, on that single-minded fellow who is actually doing more to discover the dancer's fate than even the police. Through it all, the narrator takes jabs at the reader and the amnesiac tries to piece together a forgotten identity through the caffeine-enervated transcript files tucked away in the echoing prison shared with a similarly bound corpse.
Reading The Woman is Dead the first time doesn't take long, maybe an afternoon spent curled up under a lamp in a cozy chair. The great thing is, you'll want to read it again -- the dialogue is full of laugh-out-loud moments, especially when it comes out of the self-important mouths of coffee-drinking young pseudo-intellectuals. You've got to read The Woman is Dead to believe it. The only question is, what will you believe? It's a shame that not everything coming out of the recent paroxysm of electronic-enabled self-publishing is up to McFadden-Roan's standard.