In a world where most people walk around with a telephone on their person that can allow them to contact someone anywhere in the country, or the world, easily and directly, it may be a bit of a shock to realize that as little as 50 years ago many people relied upon the assistance of an operator to connect their calls. Operators, primarily women, manually connected callers to the person with whom they wanted to speak. Another marked change, societal rather than technological between the age of operators and today, has to do with personal information. Again, it may seem odd to contemporary readers, who share any/every detail of their lives on social media with friends, family and complete strangers, but there was a time when privacy was a concern and people guarded the details of their lives. When those details became public without their knowledge or approval, the result could be scandalous! Debut author Gretchen Berg takes readers back to an age of technological simplicity and community culpability in this new novel.
Vivian Dalton has lived her entire life in the small town of Wooster, Ohio. She grew up there, met her husband Edward there, and works there for Bell as a switchboard operator. She, along with her co-workers, connects all of the calls made by the residents of Wooster. She also has a tendency to listen in on those calls, even though it is against the rules to do so. Vivian claims that no one knows the residents of Wooster like she does! Then one night, as she is listening to a call she, Vivian hears something. Something she wasn’t meant to hear and, if it is true, that will change her and her family’s lives, forever. As Vivian tries to verify if what she heard is true, one thing becomes clear: in a small town like Wooster, secrets are not isolated things.
In The Operator, Gretchen Berg tells a compelling story of small town life during a bygone age. While her characters’ concerns and motivations may seem alien to a contemporary reader, they are still relatable and understandable. This is especially true of Vivian and another woman in town, Betty Miller. Vivian is a young woman from a family of limited means who has spent her entire life trying to “better” herself. As the novel progresses, Vivian’s character arc starts her on a path toward true self-improvement and a realization regarding where she should be focusing her efforts. Betty Miller is almost completely diametrically opposed to Vivian. Betty is from a family that is affluent both economically and socially. While Vivian is always striving to improve herself and her circumstances, Betty is convinced that she is the community standard to which all others should strive to meet. And Betty feels compelled to remind Vivian repeatedly that she doesn’t meet Betty’s standards. Betty is a character that readers will love to hate!