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The Transcriptionist

The Transcriptionist - Amy  Rowland Received a copy of The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland through LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review

"Memorization had been her companion in her lonely southern
childhood. Her father was a farmer and a minister, and when he
discovered that she had a skill for remembering, he had her
memorize verses to open his sermon on Sundays. It began as her
companion and became her curse. Language was a game, that was how
it started, a game between her and her father, the only one they
ever played. She was a teenager before she comprehended what her
and his congregation believed."

Lena Respass is a thirty three year old unassuming, socially-awkward and mild-mannered young woman that has an incredible sense of hearing in conjunction with a gift for memorization. In a sense she is your modern day reluctant superhero. If there ever was an occupation that was the perfect juxtaposition of her being, it would most certainly be that of a transcriptionist or to the minimalist corporate world that of a recording room operator. She works for a New York daily newspaper ironically called, the Record, and generally within the organizational hierarchy as well as the building architecture the transcriptionist is very difficult to find. Tucked away in the corner left to her own devices of desktop, dictaphone and headsets, the true value of the transcriptionist would only be realized if they somehow went the way of the Dodo. Over the years due to the advances of technology and the decline of the newspaper, what once was a field of twenty three has been reduced to one, leaving Lena as the sole survivor. As vital as she is, Lena is consistently mistaken for a machine while taking dictation over the phone from an ever-ending amount of domestic and globe-trotting journalists and is always addressed by a different name by a reporter from the newsroom named Russell. Under-appreciated, isolated, stressed and trapped by her insecurities in a thankless dead-end job, Lena is currently struggling in a mental crisis that she didn't realize she was going through until she meets a remarkable, clairvoyant and identifiable blind woman while taking public transit. Oddly enough this same woman is found dead a few days later after climbing the fence and being mutilated by lions at the Bronx Zoo. The events of the last few days seem to be taking hostage of all of Lena's thoughts, but encouragingly these are her thoughts and not someone else's.

This is a deliberate yet subtly-haunting read propelling the written word to great influence on ones mental state as well as the struggle between losing control and maintaining their own individuality. The parallels between person and occupation provided an interesting dynamic, especially the paring down of work and spirit and the hope for redemption. While reading I kept thinking about the movie PI, besides being set in the city that never sleeps, the lead protagonist is constantly being swarmed by numbers on an minute-by-minute basis, while Lena is constantly thinking about words and the unwanted hearing (not always listening) of other people's voices. I appreciate the restraint shown by Lena in not going to extremes in finding a remedy to her migraines, unlike the lead in PI. I know the author was very subtle in the darkness exhibited in the text but imagine if Cronenberg, Lynch, and/or Aronovsky got a piece of this action, they would have a field day putting the drawing boards together for this adaptation. Just contemplate the possibilities, it freaks me out just thinking about it.

"Lying on the bed, she pushes against the wall with her feet and
stares at the ceiling. The Middlemarch passage that the blind woman
quoted floats before her eyes, as if she is transcribing for the
author and watching the words appear above. ' If we had a keen
vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like
hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat and we should
die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.' She
closes her eyes tight, then opens them, but the words remain
creeping across the white ceiling She cannot escape them."

This is a very unique and courageous read that initially starts well, but falls a little flat towards the conclusion. I found it to have a methodical and deliberate pace but towards the end it got ahead of itself and unravelled inconsistent to the previous setup making it feel rushed. Despite that, I was thoroughly captivated by the mysterious Lena and looked forward to when I had the chance to pick this book up and continue reading. Ultimately, this is a story of a woman's journey to freedom from the bonds brought on at first by her insecurities and last by her obsessions with the written word that have manifested themselves on various points throughout her thirty three years. Along her life's journey she finds a great cause that assists in the finding of her own antidote to her own problems and giving closure for someone lost along the way. The problem I had was that the story would get clouded with its metaphors and varying narratives. It gives the interpretation of a constant haze over the book which helps the reader with the delusional undertones, but weighs the story down to a point that provides a little struggle for focus and comprehension.

I give this book a 3 but this is a unique, courageous and respected 3 not a "meh" 3 that I have been handing out all too frequently as of late. I believe this author's best work is ahead of her and I look forward to reading it.

" ' I think about suicide, too. But I fear that if my life ends, I
will be sent to a room and it will be empty except for one desk,
one tape recorder, and one headset.'
' I wish I had stayed with you on the bus that one day. I wish I
could have helped you. When I left the academic cloister, I
thought the Recording Room would be insulation from the world.
But it's not. It's too difficult to eat the news with my ears
every day. It leaves a residue. I have letters in my bloodstream,
nut graphs in my gut, headlines around my heart. It usurps my soul.
You knew about that. But people don't understand, do they? We have
to listen. We have to accept them into our bodies. People have no
regard for what their stories do.' "