Lena sits all day with a headset on, transcribing tapes and phoned-in news from reporters calling into New York’s premier newspaper, the Record. After years at this job, Lena’s body has begun to involuntarily shun the equipment, starting an inevitable rejection of the constant infusion of thoughts and words fed to her by a steady stream of stories flowing into the Recording Room, where she alone sits with the Dictaphone and the foot pedal.
"THE TRANSCRIPTIONIST is an insightful novel that reads like a true account, leaving one with the disturbing notion of having been a fly on the wall in a secret room."
One day during her commute, Lena meets Arlene, a blind court reporter --- another woman with a job of recording the words of others. They have a brief encounter, speak a few sentences and continue on their own paths. But those paths have now crossed. Shortly thereafter, Lena sees the story of a blind woman mauled to death by lions after apparently climbing into their enclosure at the city zoo. From the picture accompanying the story, she recognizes the victim as the woman she had spoken with on the bus. Against her conscious will, she becomes obsessed with Arlene. She can’t stop thinking about her and realizes she must find out who she was. Not just her name, but the person behind the name, the things she cared about, the reasons behind her actions --- what made her tick, so to speak.
As Lena embarks on her quest to learn everything she can about the dead woman, she finds herself employing many of the same questionable tactics she has noticed the Record’s reporters use. Do the ends justify the means? She doesn’t think so, but she is nearly beyond caring. It occurs to her that her job means little to her anymore; the words waiting to be transcribed each day have been ill-used, and their meanings have become twisted. The sanctity of the news has been tarnished, the ethics undeniably compromised. The rules aren’t being followed. They’re disregarded at every turn, no longer seeming to matter. Why should she care? What matters to her is Arlene. And understanding Arlene, who was about as real as anything could be until a few days ago, may be the key to Lena’s very survival.
THE TRANSCRIPTIONIST is an insightful novel that reads like a true account, leaving one with the disturbing notion of having been a fly on the wall in a secret room. It’s a commentary on the state of newspapers and their precarious place in today’s world. The statement it makes is that many in the media bend the truth to fit their agenda, much like many in our society bend their morals to please themselves. The transcriptionist sees that and does something about it, which takes a high degree of courage and almost superhuman strength, fighting a rising tide of peer pressure.
With characters so real, so flawed, so seriously lovable and so truly hateable, this seemingly little story is far larger than its few pages would imply.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on May 30, 2014
- Publication Date: January 20, 2015
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Algonquin Books
- ISBN-10: 1616204508
- ISBN-13: 9781616204501