Book Review for “The Operator” by Gretchen Berg.
Vivian Dalton was born and raised in Wooster (Ohio), and she knows what living in a small town is like – everyone knows everyone else’s business. But as Vivian says, she gets feelings about people, its her intuition. Her daughter Charlotte would say, that it’s more her mother’s eavesdropping as a Bell switchboard operator than any innate ability to judge character or any deep understanding of human nature. Sure, Vivian has overheard some things, and yes, she knows the operators aren’t supposed to listen in on these calls, but at least she’s no gossip. She’s just listening because, well… you never know, right? She could hear something that could prevent a disaster or even solve a crime like that recent bank robbery. Then one day, Vivian puts through a call to the town snob, Betty Miller, and hears an unfamiliar voice give over a piece of gossip that touches Vivian’s life, and it is the type of thing that could humiliate her whole family. Now Vivian is both angry and hurt, but she’s also determined to find out the truth, and nothing will stop her in that task.
On Edelweiss, the introduction to the blurb for this book calls it “A clever, surprising, and ultimately moving debut novel, set in a small Midwestern town in the early 1950s, about a nosy switchboard operator who overhears gossip involving her own family, and the unraveling that discovery sets into motion.” So… I see this, with that very clever cover, and their summary, and I say… sure, why not? Sounds like fun, and I love reading debut novels. Plus, I’ve been reading some pretty cry-worthy books lately, and I’ve been in the mood for something a touch lighter. Little did I know that I’d be smiling from beginning to end, and little did I know how absolutely adorable a story could be even though it is filled with secrets and plot twists. I mean, some people could say Berg put in elements of mystery and even psychological thriller into her story, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Yet, Berg also throws in such lovely light touches that even the grayest of days of an Ohio winter aren’t without some sunshine behind the clouds.
Let me give you an example. Scattered across this book are Merriam-Webster definitions of words. Not just random words, but words that Vivian has had to look up because she doesn’t know their meaning. See, Vivian isn’t highly educated; she never finished High School, and I doubt that even if she had, she might never have gone to college. But there’s more to Vivian than meets the eye, and she’s a bit brighter than everyone thinks, including herself. More importantly, what she lacks in intelligence, she makes up for in tenacity and perseverance, hence when she doesn’t understand something, she doesn’t pretend she does, and instead she makes the effort to learn. Berg shows this as well when she describes how Vivian wasn’t much of a cook when she was first married, but by the time the novel ends, we understand that she’s acquired no small amount of skills in the kitchen, especially in the area of baking. To further enhance this, Berg throws in some of Vivian’s favorite recipes (some of which sound so good that I’d like to give them a try, although I’ll probably have to update some of the ingredients).
Another thing I enjoyed was how Berg included other characters here. Of course, Vivian is our main, and absolutely delightful, protagonist here, but not all of this book is just her part of the story. Berg gives time to the young Charlotte and that horrible Betty. Interestingly enough, though they get less focus than Vivian, they come across loud and clear, and equally as well rounded. In addition, Berg also includes one of the bank robbers, which at first felt superfluous, but later became extremely important (with a twist I really didn’t see coming). However, you should know that all of them are written in third person, so that what we get is a type of cast of characters, as if they’re all in a play, and we observe each scene with their respective main actor. Also, I’m not sure how Berg achieved this, but despite the third person voice, I really felt like each character was speaking directly to the reader. This lent an element of intimacy to each of the characters that we usually get only with first person narratives – no small feat that, let me tell you.
What this all means is… Hello, Ms. Berg! Nice to make your acquaintance. Please let me follow your website, your Facebook page, your Goodreads page, and put me on your mailing list. Why? Because… I think this is going to be the beginning of a wonderful and beautiful relationship (and I promise not to stalk you… well… not TOO much)! You’ve won my heart, and although I tried, there was just no way I could give this book less than a full five stars, and warmly recommend it to everyone. Yes, it is historical women’s fiction, but I’ll be damned if it won’t appeal to a much wider audience than fans of these genres. Thank you so much!
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “The Operator” by Gretchen Berg on March 10, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.