Thursday, March 26, 2020

“The Operator” by Gretchen Berg – Fractured by a Rumour

The Operator by Gretchen Berg (Book cover)
Gretchen Berg has announced her arrival on the literary scene in style with the publication of her first novel, The Operator. In it, we follow the story of Vivian Dalton, a switchboard operator in a small Ohio town.

One day, she overhears a rumour from a mysterious voice which might send her word to splinters. With time working against her, she begins digging her way to the truth behind the rumour, regardless of how much pain it could cause.

Gretchen Berg Presents a Town of Eavesdroppers

Whereas many authors prefer to look towards the future in hopes of anticipating what might one day come, there are those who prefer to take their readers back to a simpler time, as Gretchen Berg does in her first published novel, The Operator.

Transporting us to a small town in Ohio where nobody's business is private, the book takes us to the heart of one woman's search for truth amidst a sea of lies.

Vivian Dalton is just a switchboard operator in the village of Wooster, and she knows everybody's business unlike anyone else. Though she and her colleagues are not meant to listen in on calls, they do it anyways, and by the power of morally-questionable decisions, no secret nor identity escapes their vigil.

One day though, Vivian sees her relatively idyllic and charming life thrown into the heart of a mystery, something she believed to have been long extinct in this town.

A voice she can't quite place is talking to Betty, a snob teenager from a wealthy family, always unhappy with her lot and content to throw any opportunities life might be handing her.

To Vivian's dismay after spending years listening to people plot gossip about each other, this one rumour is actually about herself.

Once the initial shock wears off, she decides to get to the bottom of this piece of gossip, before it ends up swallowing her life whole and possibly tainting her family's name forever, at least in the small community of Wooster, Ohio.

A Display of Interconnections in The Operator

Taking a bit of a break from all the serious, horror-related and violent literature largely populating the bookshelves these days, The Operator is fairly lighthearted in its approach, with Berg trying her best to make it comedic, snarky and fast-paced.

For the most part, I would say she succeeds in delivering on the factors she intended to, and most of it hinges on the relations and connections between the various people in the town.

Each and every character is distinct in his or her own right, and while we don't exactly get lifelong biographies for each one of them, we do become well-enough acquainted with many of the town's elements to the point where they essentially feel like real people.

With this being, like real people in general, most of them aren't exactly likeable, and pretty much all of them have flaws of their own to contend with.

I didn't really find this to be a problem personally, but I know for some people it can get a bit daunting, especially when our main character, Vivian, is herself a rather inappropriate eavesdropper.

The plot itself also doesn't take to one static structure, essentially jumping to and fro between the stories of the various people in the town.

While at first they all feel unrelated, the further you get into the book the more it becomes obvious they are all bound to connect at the end, and they do in rather satisfying, and perhaps more importantly in this sort of novel, believable ways.

I feel like this is a book which can best enjoyed if approached like a “slice of life”-type exposition, especially considering how much effort the author put into recreating what feels like an authentic 1950s small-town atmosphere.

The Power of Gossip

While the book is indeed full of fun, comedy and humour, it certainly doesn't come deprived of depth in any shape or form.

To begin with, the dialogue itself was obviously very carefully-crafted and refined over God-knows how many drafts, always having a poignant and witty edge to it, turning sarcastic and ironic remarks into comedy gold.

There are many double-entendres and hidden meanings for the attentive readers, and I feel this will only add to the book's value should I come back to it in the future.

Additionally, Berg takes the time to explore just how powerful, devastating and unforgiving gossip can end being.

While the topic is coloured in hilarity, beneath the layer of comedy is a thought-provoking examination of how far we have erred as a species in giving so much power to the spoken and unsubstantiated word.

The Operator by Gretchen Berg (Book cover)
We witness just how easily it can spread through a small town (and this was before the advent of social media), and the very strange effects it can have not only on the people caught up in it, but also on those watching from the sidelines in excitement, shame, disgust or secret contentment.

In other words, in this historical fiction comedy novel is hiding an excellent psychological examination on the power of rumours in a relatively modern society.

The Final Verdict

The Operator by Gretchen Berg is an excellent debut for the author, managing to write a solid piece of comedic historical fiction with some interesting psychological undertones and social examinations beneath it.

I strongly recommend it to anyone small-town mysteries and is looking for something of a lighter nature to read.

Gretchen Berg (Author)

Gretchen Berg

Personal site

Gretchen Berg is an American author born on the East Coast who has travelled quite a bit in her time, teaching English in South Korea and Northern Iraq among other places.

She currently lives in Chicago and has the distinction of being an Iowa State University graduate. She published her first novel on March 10th, 2020, titled The Operator.

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