Rowland_Transcriptionist_NEW LION.inddReviewed by Jax Kepple

Lena is a transcriptionist for The Record, a New York Times stand-in newspaper, and leads a very solitary life. She sits in a room by herself all day and transcribes stories that reporters either drop off on tapes or call in and dictate over the phone. She lives in a single room in a women-only boardinghouse that has access to a key to Gramercy Park, where she takes sad, one-hour walks. She appears to have no friends or acquaintances beyond the homeless woman who is always outside her office and a pigeon who is always outside her office window. Both the pigeon and the homeless woman are always there, and Lena has weird, cryptic conversations with both. She also is constantly running quotes from the stories she transcribes and from books she read through her mind, so much that she feels as if she’s losing her mind and having no original thoughts.

A random story brings her on a strange journey all over New York state, including Hart’s Island and the Bronx Zoo, in order to find out what happened to the body of this mysterious blind woman who she met briefly on the bus. She meets a mysterious (of course) man who also works alone in an office a few floors below her own lonely office. It’s hard to believe a newspaper in New York City would have all this empty space for these two to work in.

Author Amy Rowland works at the New York Times, so all the interesting newsroom details are appropriately taken care of, and all the reporters sound realistic. It was hard to have Lena be relatable since she has chosen to both work in an office by herself and live by herself and eschews all interpersonal contact, for the most part. Yes she does go on a date, but that implodes rather quickly.

The degree to which the loneliness was presiding over her life, with little to no backstory, made Lena’s journey a bit too disjointed. There is mention of her mother dying, and a wildcat that was loose in her hometown that “terrorized” her (only in her mind, not in real life), there is a theme of death and dying animals, but it was lost in the noise of her quoting over and over again and the frustration of her choice to remain isolated. Without spoiling the end, there is some resolution, but it is not confirmed so ambiguity remains and the book was a bit unsatisfying.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Algonquin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.