Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

When I am not engaged in my usual reading fare of science-fiction and history, my literary tastes still edge on this side of odd. The Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland, certainly fits the bill.

The Transcriptionist follows Lena, who works at the New York newspaper The Recorder as a transcriptionist. Her daily routine is one of strange isolation, working alone in a room, sequestered from the rest of the paper, transcribing articles called in by reporters. To help insulate her even further, Lena has the habit of spouting literary quotes, a remainder from her abortive lit major. This goes on for years until one day she is transcribing a story of a blind woman, Arlene, eaten by lions at the zoo. Remember that she had encountered the woman the previous day; Lena begins to investigate Arlene’s life, learning that she was a court transcriptionist, acting a conduit for sad and terrible stories. As Lena uncovers more about Arlene, she fights to tell her story above the din of a city and news agency that ignores a cyclist’s near death and gives chemical attack escape hoods. As she does, her own dissatisfactions with her life, the city, and the newspaper begin to surface, forcing her to stand for the truth

The pace definitely starts out slowly and seems to build up to the climatic scene surprisingly quickly. To me, this fits perfectly with Lena moving through her lonely world and report’s words move through her and progressing to someone that becomes more self aware and decries the uncaring noise of the world around her. Rowland’s tale might not deal with the “failure of language” as the book-jacket blurb intimates, but the language of the book is certainly engaging and peppered with quotes only a lit major would have on hand. In all, this is an odd little tale, well executed and decidedly engaging. 

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