So I asked, ‘what are you?’
I remember they said, ‘A function of time and place.’
– Page 81 of N.J. Campbell’s Found Audio
As a reader with a never-ending to-be-read pile, sometimes life can feel like a joyous but endless quest to check one more book, one more film, off a list. Some measure their lives in coffee cups, while I seem to measure mine in books and my experiences with them. But when your Goodreads to-be-read list is 385 books (and counting) long like mine is, it’s easy for treasures to be ignored and forgotten. Miraculously, this pile did not impede my view of the beauty that is N.J. Campbell’s debut novel.
Found Audio is a novel that blessedly came out of nowhere for me. It did not appear in that aforementioned TBR list or in a glowing press review slapped to the back cover of a magazine. In fact, it’s published by Two Dollar Radio, an indie press putting out both books & films whose “sonic progression[s]..[are] too loud to ignore” according to their website. I had never heard of the press, but two libraries in my area had. I placed Found Audio on hold, intrigued by its cover and voila, it appeared. It seems fitting that Found Audio popped into my frame of vision out of nowhere, just as the titular audio tapes are “found” by (fictional) historian Amrapali Anna Singh.
A frame narrative, Found Audio‘s outer portrait is that of Dr. Singh, an historian and audio expert tasked by a stranger to uncover any useful details about some mysterious audio tapes in his possession. Dr. Singh has dealt with challenging recordings before, but never one as strange as this. What readers find in the center of the frame are the transcripts of the tapes themselves, turning the reader, in essence, into Dr. Singh herself, who by this point has gone missing.
Even with all its ruminating on reality & existence, Found Audio is not difficult to read. In fact, choosing a quote to feature at the front of this review was more challenging, because either everything can be quoted or nothing can be; paradoxically, the novel is both simple to understand and incredibly complex to decipher. Publisher’s Weekly called Found Audio an “onion peel of a story,” and I agree.
Short but powerful, the novel is filled with everything a reader yearns for. There’s action and adventure, mystery and intrigue, and even deep questions about human existence. Of course, the audio here must be “found,” and to reveal much more about the novel would be a disservice to you. With zero idea of its plot, I thought Found Audio to be a complete surprise and delight.
I’m not a huge fan anymore of book ratings by stars, though I have attempted in the past to construct a system that works. What I can tell you is this book is definitely worth a read, and I look forward to discovering what else Two Dollar Radio has to offer if I can find their books near me!
(Featured Image above is the cover of Found Audio, taken from Goodreads. I do not own the image.)