Except, of course, things aren’t quiet when Lena, the protagonist of the contemporary novel The Transcriptionist, is transcribing. Things aren’t quiet when anybody is transcribing, because the nature of the job is to be quiet, yourself, while you listen to the other person’s voice go on and on while you take down what she says. Lena’s situation is abnormally silent, however, because she has the eleventh floor of the newspaper offices all to herself. The other transcribers are long gone, since new technologies (we’re looking at you, email and voicemail!) have phased them out. And the reporters are, understandably enough, creeped out by the hollow, echoing hallways on Eleven, so they huddle together in the safe haven of the newsroom down on Four. Most of the interactions Lena has with her co-workers are over the phone, so there she is, spending hours at a time listening to disembodied voices coming through her headset.
What happens to shake up this hauntingly hushed scenario? It’s not exactly what you’d expect: Lena reads an article in her own paper about an elderly blind woman who enters the Bronx Zoo in the night, swims the moat to the lion enclosure, and is duly mauled to death by one of the lions. Please don’t try this at home.
Coincidentally, Lena has had a very strange conversation with the blind woman, a retired court transcriptionist, a few days before while riding the city bus. Lena’s adventures as she rockets out of her comfort zone and her job description to understand this bizarre story and what it means in her own life make a truly riveting read.
The Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland, is deservedly one of Booklist magazine’s top ten debut novels for 2014. Others include:
Your Face in Mine by Jess Row
Three Bargains by Tania Malik
The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson