Review: “Transcription,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Fascinating tale of a curse that won’t quit
Cons: A question I couldn’t find an answer for
Rating: 4 out of 5

In 1977, Thomas Hicks decided to test a theory. There was a particular prison cell that a certain four inmates all spent time in. Each one of them went in a petty criminal, and came out a murderer. He believes there may be something about the cell that drives the men crazy, infects them with some sort of evil. So, being an overly curious writer (who’s working on a story about those four criminals), he arranges to spend the night in that cell right before the prison gets torn down. Unfortunately for him, his theory was correct. Unlike the other men, however, he found a different outlet for his evil: every night he would sit down at sunset and write one horrifying story, ending at sunrise. As long as he did this every night, he could resist the urge to kill. But when a friend invaded his privacy by reading one of those stories, that friend later acted out the atrocities he’d read about. When Ike Hamill’s Transcription begins, we find ourselves with James, Thomas Hicks’s son. Thomas killed himself years ago, and every night James faithfully transcribes one of his father’s stories. If he misses a night, he ends up killing people. This has resulted in James being a hermit who only has occasional contact with the outside world, but in his new home there’s a man, Bo, who seems determined to drag James out into the light of day. Through Bo, James also meets Danielle and Chloe. Before long, his new friends’ attempts to help him trigger a terrible series of events.

 

Hamill’s characters are, as usual, interesting and complex. I love Bo’s large personality, Chloe’s hardness, Danielle’s creativity and caring. I love the ways in which Bo refuses to enable James’s reclusiveness, without doing something stupid like trying to toss him into crowded situations. James, too, is fascinating, especially as we gradually learn more about how he grew up and how he got trapped into his father’s work.

The only negative here is that I never quite figured out how he happened to realize that transcription was the way to avoid the problem, rather than believing he had to do the same original work the way his father did. There’s also one thing near the end that seemed a little bit obvious (and therefore it seems odd James hadn’t done it already). On the other hand, there are good reasons why James has handled things in the manner he has. (Sorry for the vagueness; trying not to give too much away.)

Hamill is not afraid to turn his whole world upside-down, and I love that. Sometimes horror stories are overly limited in the scope of their effects.

The pace is fantastic. The scenes of horror pop up here and there, sometimes at unexpected times and places. It’s kind of like an abstracted jump-scare, come to think of it.

It isn’t perfect, but I really enjoyed Transcription.

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