Where I grew up in the midwest in the 1950s, we didn’t have to go through an operator to make a phone call. We did, however, have a party line when I was in early elementary school. Mom told us under no circumstances were we to listen in to a phone call if we picked up the receiver and someone else was on the line. Being the obedient sort, I would immediately hang up if I heard someone else on the line. But man-oh-man, did I ever want to listen in on the conversation. The Operator, by Gretchen Berg, made me glad I didn’t succumb to temptation.
It’s 1952, and Vivian Dalton is an operator for Bell Company in the small town of Wooster, OH. Just like the own in which I spent my formative years, it was big enough that not everyone knew every other person, but it was a small world, nonetheless. There were the rich folks, or what my mom referred to as the Little 400, and what Vivian referred to as the Four Flushers. And there were the Working Class people. And there were the Bible Thumpers. And so forth…
And unlike me, Vivian can’t help but listen in on the phone conversations which she manages. She justifies it by saying she knows the people of Wooster better than anyone. She has what she calls intuition, and what her teenage daughter calls nosiness.
And then one day Vivian listens in on a conversation that she really wishes she hadn’t heard. It changes her marriage, her relationship with her daugher, in fact, her entire life. And she can’t unhear it.
Though I enjoyed the book, I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I loved the 1950s setting. The way people lived and thought in those post-war days was captured very well by the author. My biggest problem with the book was that I really never grew fond of the main character, Vivian. Or at least not until the very end of the book.
And most problematic of all — at least for this reader — was the repetitive use of nursery rhymes throughout the book. It begins with the first paragraphs of the story, and continues on through the entire book. And there is never an explanation why.
The book was a reasonably good look at a 50s woman taking charge of her own life. Not a stupendous book, but one that kept my interest.