The Transcriptionist

The Transcriptionist

5.0 1
by Amy Rowland, Xe Sands
     
 

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Lena, the transcriptionist, sits alone in a room far away from the hum of the newsroom that is the heart of the Record, the big city newspaper for which she works. For years, she has been the ever-present link for reporters calling in stories from around the world. Hooked up to a machine that turns spoken words to print, Lena is the vein that connects the

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Overview

Lena, the transcriptionist, sits alone in a room far away from the hum of the newsroom that is the heart of the Record, the big city newspaper for which she works. For years, she has been the ever-present link for reporters calling in stories from around the world. Hooked up to a machine that turns spoken words to print, Lena is the vein that connects the organs of the paper. She is loyal, she is unquestioning, yet technology is dictating that her days there are numbered.

When she reads a shocking piece in the paper about a Jane Doe mauled to death by a lion, she recognizes the woman in the picture. They had met on a bus just a few days before. Obsessed with understanding what caused the woman to deliberately climb into the lion’s den, Lena begins a campaign for truth that will destroy the Record’s complacency and shake the venerable institution to its very foundation. In doing so she also recovers a life—her own.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Audio
07/28/2014
Sands beautifully captures the odd life of the haunted lead character in Rowland’s novel. Lena is something of an anomaly: she is a transcriptionist for the Record, a major New York newspaper. Her job is to transcribe bits of information phoned in by reporters to be used in upcoming stories. A chance encounter with a woman who later commits suicide causes Lena to becomes intrigued by and gradually obsessed with the woman. Sands gives a quiet, subdued performance that beautifully captures the complex, lonely protagonist. She keeps her characterizations to a minimum. It’s a subtle performance that pulls the listener solidly into Lena’s world. Sands’s performance, like Lena, is mesmerizing in its seeming simplicity. Listeners will discover that these still waters do, indeed, run deep. An Algonquin hardcover. (May)
Buffalo News
“Xe Sands’s ironic tone fits Lena, the questioning transcriptionist who begins to wonder about herself and life. . . . Sands’s narration reflects the loneliness and emptiness that inspire her new direction.”
AudioFile

Booklist
“Rowland’s farcical approach is balanced by the novel’s realistic insights into journalistic integrity, the evolution of contemporary newspaper publishing, and, more broadly, the importance of genuine communication.”
Publishers Weekly

Library Journal - Audio
07/01/2014
Lena, the transcriptionist for a fictional newspaper called The Record, waits in a remote office for calls or recordings to transcribe. She is lonely and isolated and living in a rooming house for women; her one reliable connection is with the pigeon that lives on her office window sill. When she realizes that a blind woman with whom she had brief contact has jumped into the lion's area at the zoo and been killed, it opens Lena's eyes and leads to self-examination and some uncharacteristic behaviors on her part. Former transcriber Rowland expertly covers a lot of ground in this polished and literary first novel, while Xe Sands's narration effortlessly brings the listener into Lena's world. VERDICT For fans of quirky literary fiction. ["Disturbing and powerful; the skillfully drawn Lena may remind some readers of an existentialist hero," read the review of the Algonquin hc, LJ 2/1/14.]—Mary Knapp, Madison P.L., WI
The New York Times Book Review - Amanda Eyre Ward
An existential heroine, Lena has no friends, but spends her time walking around Manhattan, her footsteps echoing those of Julius, the protagonist of Teju Cole's Open City, and W. G. Sebald's pensive narrators before him…The Transcriptionist holds many pleasures. Rowland's depiction of a Mad Men-meets-hamster-cage newsroom is riotously funny, and her secondary characters are sharp and affecting…As a novelist and reader, I come to books seeking both solace and wisdom. What stays with me from The Transcriptionist isn't Rowland's postmodern pyrotechnics, but the ache of relating to a woman who is in the process of recognizing her own despair.
Publishers Weekly
02/10/2014
New York Times veteran Rowland treads familiar ground (familiar to her, at least) in her debut novel, set primarily amid the remote offices of Record, a fictional newspaper. Lena is the newspaper’s sole remaining transcriptionist, her job having been made nearly redundant by technology. Lonely and prone to melancholy, she is haunted both by the words that are edited out of her transcribed stories prior to publication, and by her childhood fear of mountain lions. Both preoccupations come to a head after a blind woman, with whom Lena had a brief encounter, is found mauled to death in the Bronx Zoo’s lion exhibit. Lena’s identification with the dead woman verges on obsession as she researches the woman’s life and death. Rowland’s farcical approach (for example, Lena finds mental safety in periodically donning the biohazard escape hood that she was given by the newspaper) is balanced by the novel’s realistic insights into journalistic integrity, the evolution of contemporary newspaper publishing, and, more broadly, the importance of genuine communication. “Listening,” notes Lena, “helps us recognize our absurdity, our humanity.” (May)
Review quotes

“A haunting and provocative novel about the mysteries of life and a death, the written word, things seen and unseen, heard and forgotten. Amy Rowland's writing is compelling and masterful.” —Delia Ephron, author of The Lion Is In

“This haunting, beautiful book set me thinking and dreaming about language and personality. It proves that language can make us whole. The entire book tends towards liberation, and the end is so suggestive and life-affirming, though not a typical happy ending. It's something better, something the reader can carry back into life.” —Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories

“If one had to name an antecedent for the strange, golden sheen that covers Amy Rowland’s debut novel, possibly early John Cheever, with its dreamy imaginings of commuter intrigues, or beautifully cadenced, resonant verbal exchanges, would be closest. Entering the city Rowland creates, with its tightly strung dialogue and soulful, lonely citizens, is a memorable experience.” —The Boston Globe

“A lively tale, light and enjoyable, about a sensitive, reflective and articulate soul in a fast-paced, often soulless world.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Rowland, a former transcriptionist for the New York Times, has written a strange, mesmerizing novel about language, isolation, ethics, technology, and the lack of trust between institutions and the people they purportedly serve . . . A fine debut novel about the decline of newspapers and the subsequent loss of humanity--and yes, these are related.” —Booklist, starred review

“Sly and humane and with a delicate touch of surrealism, The Transcriptionist is a masterpiece.” —Haven Kimmel, author of Iodine and A Girl Named Zippy

“What a laser-sharp eye Amy Rowland has! From her perch in the most out-of-the-way nook in the world's most powerful paper, her heroine seems to be able to take in the whole world. This first novel is wise, beautifully written, with just the right amount of wickedness.” —James Magnuson, author of Famous Writers I Have Known

“Unforgettable. Written with such delight, compassion, and humanity it’s newsworthy. Amy Rowland is the debut of the year.” —Alex Gilvarry, author of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant

The Transcriptionist is suffused with prescient insight into journalism, ethics, and alienation . . . A thought provoking, original work.” —New York Journal of Books

From the Publisher
The Transcriptionist holds many pleasures . . . [and] can be read through many lenses . . . Rowland plays with the notions of truth and reliability . . . It is the responsibility of a journalist to report the truth, but what if—Rowland asks—objective reality is a fiction? . . . Sharp and affecting.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Rowland, a former transcriptionist for the New York Times, has written a strange, mesmerizing novel about language, isolation, ethics, technology, and the lack of trust between institutions and the people they purportedly serve . . . A fine debut novel about the decline of newspapers and the subsequent loss of humanity—and yes, these are related.” —Booklist, starred review

“If one had to name an antecedent for the strange, golden sheen that covers Amy Rowland’s debut novel, possibly early John Cheever, with its dreamy imaginings of commuter intrigues, or beautifully cadenced, resonant verbal exchanges, would be closest. Entering the city Rowland creates, with its tightly strung dialogue and soulful, lonely citizens, is a memorable experience.” —The Boston Globe

“The magic of this book . . . [is that] Rowland demonstrates a gift for making mystery out of a concrete style. Paul Harding has advised writers to write ‘as precisely and as lucidly and as richly’ as they can about mysterious things, instead of writing with mystery and obscurity about clichés; much of The Transcriptionist would likely please him . . . Rowland shows her dexterity with language—her skill at nailing precisely what is mysterious about something or someone with originality, yet without preciousness . . . Remarkable.” —The Rumpus

“A lively tale, light and enjoyable, about a sensitive, reflective and articulate soul in a fast-paced, often soulless world.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Transcriptionist is suffused with prescient insight into journalism, ethics, and alienation . . . A thought provoking, original work.” —New York Journal of Books

“Funny, sad, perceptive and soulful . . . Rowland’s writing is spare but evocative . . . The plot itself—Lena’s obsession with a blind woman who has committed suicide at the Bronx Zoo by throwing herself to the lions—seems almost incidental. It mostly serves as the vessel, a perfectly good one, for what is really going on here: Rowland’s exploration of profound subjects and her consistently engaging writing.” —The Buffalo News

“A haunting and provocative novel about the mysteries of life and a death, the written word, things seen and unseen, heard and forgotten. Amy Rowland's writing is compelling and masterful.” —Delia Ephron, author of The Lion Is In

“This haunting, beautiful book set me thinking and dreaming about language and personality. It proves that language can make us whole. The entire book tends towards liberation, and the end is so suggestive and life-affirming, though not a typical happy ending. It's something better, something the reader can carry back into life.” —Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories

“If one had to name an antecedent for the strange, golden sheen that covers Amy Rowland’s debut novel, possibly early John Cheever, with its dreamy imaginings of commuter intrigues, or beautifully cadenced, resonant verbal exchanges, would be closest. Entering the city Rowland creates, with its tightly strung dialogue and soulful, lonely citizens, is a memorable experience.” —The Boston Globe

“A lively tale, light and enjoyable, about a sensitive, reflective and articulate soul in a fast-paced, often soulless world.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Rowland, a former transcriptionist for the New York Times, has written a strange, mesmerizing novel about language, isolation, ethics, technology, and the lack of trust between institutions and the people they purportedly serve . . . A fine debut novel about the decline of newspapers and the subsequent loss of humanity—and yes, these are related.” —Booklist, starred review

“Sly and humane and with a delicate touch of surrealism, The Transcriptionist is a masterpiece.” —Haven Kimmel, author of Iodine and A Girl Named Zippy

“What a laser-sharp eye Amy Rowland has! From her perch in the most out-of-the-way nook in the world's most powerful paper, her heroine seems to be able to take in the whole world. This first novel is wise, beautifully written, with just the right amount of wickedness.” —James Magnuson, author of Famous Writers I Have Known

“Unforgettable. Written with such delight, compassion, and humanity it’s newsworthy. Amy Rowland is the debut of the year.” —Alex Gilvarry, author of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant

The Transcriptionist is suffused with prescient insight into journalism, ethics, and alienation . . . A thought provoking, original work.” —New York Journal of Books

Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-06
A blind woman's suicide prompts a newspaper staffer to rethink journalism in particular—and the nature of existence in general. Rowland's debut novel centers on Lena, an employee at major New York daily the Record, where she transcribes interview tapes and takes reporting calls from foreign correspondents. It's a dying job in a dying industry, and Rowland emphasizes the strangeness of the gig and Lena's own isolation within it. (Conspicuous references to Beckett, O'Connor and Calvino bolster the out-of-the-mainstream mood.) A story about a woman who broke into the lions' den at the Bronx Zoo and was promptly killed sparks Lena's sorrow and curiosity (they had a brief encounter), and the novel turns on her effort to learn more about the woman's life than simple journalism will deliver. Rowland deliberately presents the profession in a fun-house mirror: Staffers are given emergency "escape hoods" instead of bonuses thanks to post-9/11 anxiety; an aging staffer spends days musing over the obituary archives; and the publisher's pronouncements are pompous even by CEO standards. In stuffing this milieu with bits of mystery, romance and aphoristic riffs on listening and silence, Rowland has taken on a bit too much; the novel's tone unsteadily shifts from the bluntly realistic to the fuzzily philosophical. Even so, individual scenes and characters are very well-turned: Lena's visit to a potter's field where the mauled woman is buried, a conversation with the security guard at the lions' den, the preening investigative reporter who makes a major error about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Rowland has a talent for making the real world just a touch more Day-Glo and off center, but Lena's own concerns about listening and being get short shrift in the process. An appealing attempt to wed the weird and everyday in a newsroom setting—it's a cousin to Renata Adler's Speedboat (1976)—that never quite finds solid footing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781622313419
Publisher:
HighBridge Company
Publication date:
05/13/2014
Edition description:
Unabridged; 5.5 hours
Pages:
300
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Transcriptionist

A Novel


By Amy Rowland

ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL

Copyright © 2014 Amy Rowland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61620-254-5


CHAPTER 1

Scientists Celebrate Theory of Everything


No one can find it. That's the first thing. The Recording Room is on the eleventh floor, at the end of a rat-hued hallway that some workers at the newspaper have never seen; they give up on the ancient elevator, which makes only local stops with loud creaks of protest. Like New Yorkers who refuse to venture above Fourteenth Street, there are newspaper workers who refuse to go above the fourth floor for fear of being lost forever if they leave the well-lit newsroom for dark floors unknown. The newsroom, renovated, almost aglow with new computers and pale paint, seems to float in the center of the hulking institution, as if someday it will break off, drift over to Broadway, and join the Clifford and Barney balloons in the annual Macy's parade.

Occasionally, a reporter wearing cell phones, mini-keyboards, and a look of euphoric deflation finds his or her way to the eleventh floor, down the long hallway to door 1107, the Recording Room. It is an industrial door, once white, now suitably dingy, with a steel lever handle that has been known to come off and stay that way, until the proper number of union employees can be assembled for the repair.

The room is the color of old opossum or new pumice, the color of newspaper without ink. Gray. It is the room where the transcriptionist, or, in the perplexing vocabulary of the corporate world, Recording Room operator, sits alone all day with a headset and a Dictaphone and transcribes all the words that have been recorded for the Record.

Four dirty windows overlook Forty-Third Street and provide obstructed views of traffic and arguments, frequent parades, constant tourists, and occasional suicides. A pigeon on the window ledge presides over this scene and pecks itself incessantly, afflicted with either lice or obsessive-compulsive disorder. The windows have not been opened in three years, not since a transcriptionist pried one open and leaned out to view the body of a reporter who had jumped to his death from the roof's machine room. That transcriptionist retired soon after. Now there is one.

Today, someone has made the journey to the eleventh floor, and the Recording Room door opens. The transcriptionist looks at the metro reporter. He is handsome in a mannequin sort of way, young, tan, unlike most fluorescent-tinted reporters. The transcriptionist has always been a bit suspicious of his skin, which seems as smooth and odorless as dry ice, as if he has undergone plastination. His nervous manner makes him more bearable. Russell.

"Hi, Carol." He is one of two reporters who calls her by name and congratulates himself by repeating it often. "Thanks for the bird flu transcript. Terrifying, isn't it, Carol? Did you enjoy the interview?"

"Yes."

"You don't sound like you care, Carol."

"You didn't ask like you cared, Russell."

He shrugs, fills out the transcription log, leaves his two-tape interview about a state senator's prostatectomy, and closes the door gently with a "Many thanks, Carol."

She decided long ago not to mention that her name is Lena.

Lena is a transcriptionist, rarely mentioned in literature except to note, "The errors of copyists are the least excusable." There is basic equipment required: a headset, a Dictaphone to play the tapes that must be transcribed, and patience, a willingness to become a human conduit as the words of others enter through her ears, course through her veins, and drip out unseen through fast-moving fingertips.

While rewinding Russell's tapes, she glances at today's Metro Section: A couple charged with forcing their foster daughter to "wait on" an elderly relative as he lay dead upstairs. An article detailing the fascinating affliction of hoarding. A NYC Task Force on Hoarding has been formed. One woman quoted has a puppet problem; she buys them from a TV shopping channel. "I feel bad for them when no one else bids," she said.

Another day, another edition of the Record, another itemized receipt of humanity's victories and losses.

On page 3, Lena sees Russell's byline; above the story is a photo of someone who looks vaguely familiar, a middle-aged woman turned in profile, wild hair, a calm expression, eyes downcast. And the news: The woman broke into the Bronx Zoo two days ago, invaded the lions' den, and was killed. She was blind.

"Zoo officials said the woman's clothes were damp, suggesting she swam the moat. She was found lying about 40 feet from the viewing area in front of one of the dens. The employee entrances in the rear of the exhibit were locked and no keys were missing, according to zoo officials.

"'The Bronx Zoo is very concerned about the safety of its visitors,' a zoo spokesman read from a statement. 'This incident will be studied very carefully.'

"An animal keeper discovered the body. The lions were apparently behaving strangely and would not go inside their cages to be fed.

"The animal keeper went into the lions' outdoor enclosure to try to lead them to their feeding cages. There, he found the woman, whose arms, scalp, and neck were mutilated. According to the police report, the victim suffered scratches and bite wounds over most of her body.

"The Associated Press reported that the woman had been partly devoured."


Lena studies the small picture, grainy and pale. There is something familiar about the face, but the woman has turned away from the camera and is looking off to the left, as if to protect her identity from readers of the Record.

She tries to remember where she has seen this woman, a woman who would swim a moat to be eaten by lions. She snaps the first tape into the Dictaphone and begins to transcribe but has difficulty concentrating. She types "prostate" and "Gleason score" and "potency" but her mind is elsewhere. When she hears the words "seminal vesicles" she lifts her foot off the pedal and pauses. She moves her foot slightly to the right and quickly presses down, then releases. The tape rewinds and she moves her foot back to the center of the pedal and presses: "seminal vesicles." Yes, that's what he said. It's enough to make one feel sorry for politicians; even their seminal vesicles are subject to discussion. But then Russell asks if it's true that the senator urged the president to send the military into a Binghamton suburb to arrest terrorism suspects. "It would seem to be a clear violation of posse comitatus," Russell says. "Posse comitatus," the senator shouts. "I'm sure the president did not violate posse comitatus. What is posse comitatus? It sounds vaguely pornographic and I'm sure the president had nothing to do with it."

She closes her eyes, then opens them and focuses on the telephones across the room. Three black phones are mounted on a panel and linked to recorders with electrical umbilical cords so that reporters can call in to dictate their stories. The bulk of work these days is the transcription of long interviews that are folded into stories like the one she is typing now, although calls come in sporadically, unpredictably. There is a red light above the telephone that flashes with an incoming call. She imagines this to be like the red button of Samuel Beckett's telephone, although he used his to exclude incoming calls, which, alas, the transcriptionist cannot. And anyway, these phones are not for transmitting literature; they are news lines, dedicated to the who, the what, the when, the where, and sometimes, perhaps, the why. To talk on these phones, the transcriptionist must press a button on the receiver and hold it down while she speaks. But once she has taken the initial, necessary information (caller, desk, time, location, slug), she rarely presses the button again. This makes for a cleaner transcript because if the button on the receiver is not pressed and the transcriptionist does not speak, there is no background noise on the tape. She is a transcriptionist, but also a gatekeeper for background noise.

She continues typing about the politician's prostate, and her mind drifts from Samuel Beckett's telephone to the blind woman to butterflies. This may seem a strange progression to someone who has not been a transcriptionist. But transcriptionists know that typing someone else's words encourages a mysterious progression of thoughts, as in dreams. So, Coetzee, Nabokov, Saramago—butterfly men all. She had cried on the R train once while reading of the rasp of butterfly teeth. What was the passage?

"The scratch of ant-feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust."

In her daydream, as her fingers continue to move silently over the keyboard, Lena already sees the grave of the blind woman who was devoured by lions. It is in a potter's field; small white bricks serve as markers, row upon row, like long lines of white hyphens where names should be recorded. That is what will happen if the woman's body is not claimed. It will not be enough for her, but that is what will be done.

While transcribing, Lena recites things to herself. Recitation is a habit she has always found soothing, silently reciting whatever passage occurs as her fingers play the keys. But recently the recitation does not seem to stop. She awakens in the morning with someone else's words, someone else's thoughts, ribboning around her brain. And while she is transcribing, she recites, without realizing, things she has learned from transcribing stories and interviews, mixed in with the flotsam of dreams until she does not know anymore what is real and what is Record: That the world is made of two shapes, the doughnut and the sphere. That Newton lived his whole life within 150 miles and died a virgin. That there are nine billion pieces of candy corn.

She closes her eyes and sees the blind woman's face. Her job is to remember voices and she has gradually stopped remembering faces. But not this one.

Russell opens the door halfway. "Hey, Carol, how's the transcript coming?"

She nods.

"Soon?"

She nods again and sighs as the door closes. Once again a politician's prostate must take priority—an unfortunate but common truth.

The telephone rings; the red light flashes. She removes the headset and crosses the room, picks up the receiver of the first phone on the panel while simultaneously pressing "record" on the Dictaphone.

"Recording Room."

"Hi, this is John Miller with a lead for the science desk."

"OK, John, where are you calling from?"

"Aspen."

She records the time and location of the call on the phone log.

"What's the slug?"

"Slug it Theory of Everything."

"OK, go ahead when you're ready."

She watches the tape wind slowly around the spool and listens for the dictation to begin.

"Physicists gathered in Aspen to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of string theory comma the so hyphen called theory of everything comma which they admit that they still cannot test stop."

Lena gently hangs the receiver next to the recorder, on a plastic hook that keeps the call from being disconnected. She returns to her desk, replaces her headphones, and continues with the prostatectomy.

Six minutes later, while she is standing by the panel rewinding the Theory of Everything, the phone rings.

"Hi, this is John Miller calling from Aspen. I have a lead for the science desk. Slug it Theory of Nothing."

Lena presses the button that allows her to speak on the recording line. "Hi, John. I thought you just called from Aspen with the lead for the Theory of Everything."

There is a loud curse on the other end. "I did. Can you believe it? The Theory of Nothing people, not to be outdone by the Theory of Everything people, are holding their conference in a hotel across the street. So I'm running back and forth between the two, glancing up at the banner in the banquet room to remember if I'm at Everything or Nothing."

She laughs.

"Don't laugh. These damn physicists. They've got more splinter groups than Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia."

"But aren't the theory of everything and the theory of nothing the same thing?"

"Probably."

"Maybe I could just play the Theory of Everything lead backward and I'd have the Theory of Nothing."

There is silence on the line.

"It was a joke, John. Go ahead with the Theory of Nothing."

"OK. Lead. Physicists gathered in Aspen to celebrate the theory of nothing stop. Physicists concede that in technical terms a nothing is really a something dash the energy in empty space stop. But that did not prevent the group here from celebrating the anniversary of nothing as the beginning of everything comma or what one of the cosmologists here called the deeper nothing stop."


At seven o'clock she calls the news desks for a "goodnight," or permission to leave, first foreign, then national, then metro.

"Hi, this is the Recording Room calling for a goodnight."

The news clerk puts the phone down to ask the desk head's permission and then comes back on the line.

"Good night, Recording."

She repeats this with the other desks and is given the goodnight from people who know her name only as "Recording." It is a holdover from years ago, when there were twenty-four transcriptionists and they had to be available for breaking news and frantic phone calls late into the night. The young news clerks seem to enjoy this mysterious nightly ritual of a voice somewhere in the belly of the Record asking to go home. It is evidence of something, of tradition and history, for which they otherwise have no use.

A few times in the past four years she has been asked to call again an hour or two hours or three hours later for the goodnight: on September II, and after the American Airlines flight to the Dominican Republic crashed in Queens. When the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed she was called in on a weekend. She stays late to transcribe big speeches, the State of the Union address, presidential debates. On those nights a news clerk is sent up to the Recording Room to cut five- and eight-minute sections of tape while Lena transcribes.

She turns out the lights and takes the phones off the hooks so that calls will bounce to the overnight machine. She locks the door, then unlocks it again. The newspaper is in its hanging file folder by the door—a week's worth of Record—and she removes today's paper and cuts out the article on the blind woman, which she folds and puts in her pocket.

On the sidewalk she hesitates, choosing her route home. East on Forty-Third, then down Fifth Avenue? Sometimes she walks down Broadway and east on Forty-Second Street. This is her masochistic route, letting Forty-Second Street overwhelm her; she seeks the garish sights of Times Square, where pedestrians take on the glow of the afterlife.

Not today; she turns east on Forty-Third, and the fifty-cent lady steps from the shadows of the building. She wears loose-laced brogans with no socks, a long pleated skirt, and, though it is eighty-five degrees, a stained men's trench coat in which she resembles a distraught Electra in her slain father's clothing. "Fifty cents!" she cries, exclaiming rather than questioning. She never speaks any other words, but her tone indicates that she recognizes the newspaper workers who pass her every day. It is as if the exact amount owed and denied is being recorded and must be answered for on that day when all one's failures and shortcomings are tallied. Lena places two quarters in the woman's lined palm and walks away. When she first began working at the paper, the woman shouted, "Twenty-five cents!" and it depresses her to think that she has been a transcriptionist long enough for inflation to influence the homeless.

Across Broadway the NYPD sign blinks in neon above its small metal shack like an old-fashioned diner in a desert. She continues past the Woodstock Hotel, where dapper old men sit with a boom box, past the Japanese grocery with a bulletin board advertising apartments, language lessons, and a painting, Madonna of the Harpies. She turns south at Sixth Avenue, then east on Forty-Second, past Bryant Park with its monuments to Goethe and Gertrude, who squats like a cranky, sleepy Buddha near the lawn. The lawn where, according to a vague but shocking park association note, "for a brief period the city buried hundreds of poor." Perhaps a few shards of anonymous bones still lie beneath the grassy lawn where democracy prevails on sunny days, when the rich and poor remove their shoes and lie side by side, their faces toward the sun.

When she turns right on Fifth Avenue, the library lions Patience and Fortitude provide familiar comfort. In contrast to Gertrude Stein's statue, they recline with feline grace, unflappable and serene.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland. Copyright © 2014 Amy Rowland. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

XE SANDS is a published audiobook narrator with more than a decade of experience bringing stories to life through narration and performance. From poignant young adult fiction to powerful first-person narrative, Sands’ characterizations are rich and expressive and her narrations evocative and intimate.

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The Transcriptionist 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
PierresFamily More than 1 year ago
Outstanding first novel! Possessing experience as a transcriptionist herself, Amy Rowland has the "inside skinny" that makes this book realistic. The characters are well-drawn, and the story is moving but not predictable. We learn about what transcriptionists do, how working in the news media affects the workers' morale, and how things turn out for Lena. There is just enough suspense to keep you guessing, yet it's not a contrived story, but rather one that will wrap itself around your heart. I hope this is just the first of many novels to come, from Ms. Rowland!