The Transcriptionist

Algonquin. May 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781616202545. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616203962. F
Tucked away in an almost forgotten corner of a large office building, young Lena Respass toils away at a virtually obsolete profession for a legendary New York City-based newspaper, the Record. She's a transcriptionist, typing out news stories reported to her verbally from around the world. This ambitious and fascinating debut novel is perhaps most essentially about the kind of work Lena does—listening. The story is set in motion by Lena's chance encounter with a mysterious blind woman, who warns her, "Be careful what you listen to. Be careful what you hear." Single, terribly alone in New York, and plagued by paralyzing doubts about the meaning of her life and work, Lena has come to regard what the paper defines as news as dangerous and deeply misguided—mindless and fawning celebrity profiles alongside stories of misfortune, war, and death. Her belief is substantiated when she looks into the story of a lion mauling reported in the paper. By the end, Rowland will have some very unflattering things to say about the state of modern journalism, especially its increasingly cozy and collaborationist relationship with government.
VERDICT Disturbing and powerful; the skillfully drawn Lena may remind some readers of an existentialist hero. Recommended for fans of literary fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13.]
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