Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Operator

The Operator by Gretchen Berg
HarperCollins: 3/10/20
eBook review copy; 352 pages

The Operator by Gretchen Berg is a recommended debut novel about small town secrets set in the early 1950's.

Vivian Dalton is a switchboard operator in Wooster, Ohio, when she overhears a secret bit of gossip about her that sets the whole novel into motion. Sure, Vivian isn't supposed to be listening in on calls, but all the operators do it at times. When Vivian listens into a call from an unknown woman to town snob Betty Miller, she is shocked by the secret that is told because it is about her and her husband. Not being one to take things sitting down, Vivian puts her plan into action, finding out the truth behind it and then dealing with it head on.  The only problem is that one secret often leads to another.

Chapters alternate between several characters but the story is mainly told through Vivian's point-of-view. Characters are true to their upbringing and the societal norms of the 1950's. Vivian is a well-developed character and her personality is clearly depicted. There are class and economic distinctions precisely detailed between characters and in the town. Berg captures the language and concerns of the times, which establishes the time and setting in the plot.

The writing is very good. I liked the dictionary definitions of words sprinkled throughout the novel. Berg also has a way of describing events in a witty, humorous way, like Vivian's misunderstanding over the meaning of a word in a book title or Betty's self-importance setting up her Christmas party and ladies tea. The recipes added to the novel also helps set the tone. I had a struggle keeping my interest in The Operator, however, and all the homey descriptions, period details, funny incidents, and clever wording weren't enough to keep my yawns at bay. I was glad I finished it, but ultimately it won't be memorable. I did appreciate the unraveling that resulted from all the secrets being exposed.

Part of the struggle I had with The Operator is it is required to believe the premise that all the women placed so much importance in the opinions of others, and in listening to gossip. Certainly my mother, who was a product of the 50's can still be concerned with what other people think, but she was also taught by her mother to not participate in the spreading of gossip. You were careful what you said on the party-line, knowing it was open for eavesdropping. Yes, everyone knows everyone else's business in a small town, but not all women participated in this, which makes this novel a little less humorous or clever for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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