The Transcriptionist is the story of Lena, a young woman about to become a relic in the world journalism. It’s the early 2000s and Lena works in the bowels of the world famous New York City newspaper “The Record,” diligently transcribing stories left on a machine, phoned in by reporters from across the globe or across the hall. When a report crosses her path of a woman committing suicide by throwing herself to the lions at the zoo, Lena recognizes the Jane Doe. She and this woman, a blind court stenographer, share a bus route. Lena becomes consumed with a quest to unearth why this seemingly kind, calm woman chose such a violent death. As Lena begins to interact with the the world she’s been watching from a safe distance, she becomes starkly aware of the dangers of “what we let in” and finds herself critiquing for the first time the complacency of “The Record” and its speed-crazed reporters. She sees the unsettling familiarities between herself and transcriptionists in other walks of life, from modern copyists to the scribes who once transcribed Chaucer.
What follows is a questioning of the role of the witness, the record keepers, and the reporters. (The latter of whom seem to Lena to have transformed from watch-dogs into horn-dogs.) As Lena slowly unearths the secrets at the center of “The Record,” she raises issues often neglected in an age of crazed immediacy. The Transcriptionist packs a lot of questions, assessing our short attention spans, what we obsess over and what we neglect, our fear of the Other, and our surface connections. Alien and exciting, Rowland’s prose resembles a cat creeping around a door frame, staring at you for just one beat longer than you feel you can bear before it breaks its gaze. Rowland’s book is slim, piercing, and provides us with a race, real woman you won’t soon forget. Let this book in.