03 March 2020

Today's Read: The Operator by Gretchen Berg

review of The Operator by Gretchen BergWhat if you had an inside channel to all the town's secrets and gossip? Would you be curious? Switchboard operator Vivian Dalton can't resist, especially when the phone calls she listens in on involve the town's it girl (aka daughter of the mayor).

Here's how Vivian's story begins:

December 15, 1952

Vivian Dalton's worn old ankle boots crunched over the packed snow in front of Freedlander's, the bright lights of the department store spilling right out onto the sidewalk and mixing with the glow of the streetlamps. Vivian gave a quick, polite wave of a gloved hand to Betty Miller, who'd caught her eye through the flocked glass of the main display window. Freedlander's fancied itself right up for the holidays, with the lights and the bells and whatever it was they put on the window to make it look like snowed inside.
The Operator by Gretchen Berg (William Morrow, March 10, ARC)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: 1950s, Wooster, Ohio (a real town)
  • Circumstances: Vivian, a switchboard operator, dreams of a different kind of life, one in which she doesn't have to work, and she has the leisure to invite ladies over for tea or shop on Main Street on weekday afternoons. Instead she (and her co-workers) eavesdrop while connecting the town's phone calls, gathering gossip and learning secrets. It feels a little bit like sweet revenge to learn about her well-to-do neighbors' private lives, until Vivian hears a shocking bit of news (or is it just a rumor?) that hits way too close to home. Is the gossip true? And how will she survive in the insular society that is Wooster?
  • Genre & themes: historical fiction; family, social class, self-image, marriage, friendship, small-town living
  • Gleaned from reviews: well written; a glimpse at a lost profession; character studies of a bygone era; engrossing; unexpected depth 
  • Why I want to read this: Looks like a fun look at small-town life. The story is very loosely based on the author's grandmother, who was in fact an operator for Bell. I like books set in the 1950s, especially when they show the less-than-pretty underbelly of the postwar boom years.
  • Extras: the novel includes recipes and poems from the author's grandmother, dictionary entries for words Vivian wants to learn, and extracts from period newspaper articles. The author notes that she took some minor liberties with factual details of Wooster in 1952.
  • Audiobook: Read by Allyson Ryan (HarperAudio: 10 hr, 6 min)
  • Acknowledgments: Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of Gretchen Berg's The Operator.


bermudaonion 3/3/20, 8:15 AM  

This sounds like fun to me too.

Mae Travels 3/3/20, 9:17 AM  

The eavesdropping telephone operator became a classic part of plots in its day -- also good for stand-up comedians and radio hosts. I wonder if anyone has studied this trope in literature and popular culture.
Amusing that a current writer is bringing it back! One of my favorites was in a Lake Woebegone riff on the old Prairie Home Companion radio show.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Beth Hoffman 3/3/20, 10:44 AM  

A small 1950s town and a nosey switchboard operator ... what could be better? I'm adding this book to my list right now!

sherry fundin 3/3/20, 11:57 AM  

i love books about secrets and what happens when they come to light
sherry @ fundinmental

Laurel-Rain Snow 3/3/20, 12:40 PM  

I do love the sound of this one! Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog.

Vicki 3/3/20, 2:05 PM  

I have this pre-ordered from Audible and can't wait to get it.
BTW: I lived in Wooster, Ohio for a while when I was a kid.

Sassy Brit @ Alternative-Read.com 3/3/20, 4:23 PM  

Oooh I've beem looking for books based in the 50s. Love how this is loosely based on the author's grandmother, who was in fact an operator for Bell. Makes this even more fun to read in my opinion! :)

Catherine @ Book Club Librarian 3/3/20, 4:34 PM  

I love the retro cover and the plot.

Yvonne 3/3/20, 8:10 PM  

I haven't heard about this book, but I love the sound of it. I'm adding it to my list right now.

Mystica 3/3/20, 9:51 PM  

Intriguing read. New one for me. Thanks for the review.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 3/4/20, 12:41 PM  

This appeals to me as it sounds different from what I've read lately. Thanks for sharing!

(Diane) bookchickdi 3/7/20, 7:44 AM  

I just finished The Operator and like dit. I got a Olive Kitteridge vibe from the main character, which I liked.

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