The Other Typist
by Suzanne Rindell
narrated by Gretchen Mol
Penguin Audio, 2013
10 hours and 6 minutes
source: review copy from publisher
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2013
Rose Baker seals men’s fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee.
This is a new era for women, and New York is a confusing place for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. Yet prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood. When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell.
As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high-stakes world. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.
Could Rose be crazy? That possibility dawned on me fairly early as I listened to The Other Typist. Something is not quite right in Rose's voice, in her manner, as she recounts this tale of obsession, glamour, and extravagance set against a backdrop of prohibition, corruption, and, eventually, murder in 1920's New York City.
This Gatsby-esque drama drew me in right away, yet I felt slightly off-kilter somehow throughout Rose's narrative. Near the halfway mark, I found that there wasn't enough listening time (CDs in the car) and ended up purchasing a hardcover copy.
I turned the pages quickly, yet lingered over passages like this:
"After all, summer was over. It had abandoned us, leaving behind a feeling of dissatisfaction, and taking with it all those too oft unfulfilled beach-day aspirations of a brown-skinned, primitive freedom. The weather would turn cold before we knew it and drive us back into the cramped and stuffy steam-heated rooms we called civilization." page 308-309The final pages, however, left me stunned and speechless - what the heck just happened?? Now I don't mind an open ending, but this is ambiguity in the extreme, folks. In fact, some might claim that it's just plain confusing.
Either way, The Other Typist leaves the reader with a delicious dilemma to puzzle over... one my book club could spend an entire meeting discussing. I'm still trying to work out what actually happened.
A note on audio production:
Gretchen Mol is a new-to-me narrator and I loved her portrayal of Rose. Her carefully measured delivery perfectly captured Rose's holier than thou, know it all attitude. The Other Typist is her only credit at audible, but I will keep an ear on her career!
Bottom line: The Other Typist is another winner from the Amy Einhorn imprint, but if you prefer books with a neatly packaged ending, then run, don't walk, in the opposite direction.