Tag Archives: 30s

Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

3rd July 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher, Riverhead Books, in exchange for an honest review.

In the opening pages of The Other Typist, beginning with the first line, “They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell immediately displays her writing chops, linking the typewriter, the women who use them, and the distance between the woman and the men for whom she types in a fitting criticism of the workplace in the 1920s.

Rose Baker is a typist for the police department, transcribing the confessions of those who walk through the precinct. She marvels at being thought too weak to handle the graphic talk, aptly pointing out that as a typist, she must hear the confession twice – once as it is dictated and again, as she types it.  Rose presents herself as clever, punctilious, and slightly prudish, a fact excused by her past – an orphan, she was raised by nuns.

But the other typist – Odalie – switches everything up. As Rose says, when Odalie enters the precinct, “I knew: It was like the eye of a hurricane. She was the dark epicenter of something we didn’t quite understand yet, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change.”

Drawn in immediately by the confessional nature of Rose’s tale, the reader has no choice but to wonder at the tone Rose takes when she talks about the vivacious Odalie. At first wary of Odalie, Rose soon becomes enamored of someone so different from herself, calculatingly vying for her friendship. When Odalie does turn her light on Rose, it’s fast and bright, and Rose can’t turn away, bound by the dangerous mix of glamour and daring that Odalie exudes.

Along the way there are signs of distress, but Rose is in too deep, and the rumors of an inappropriate relationship with a nun hint at the possibility that Rose feels romantically toward Odalie, adding to her dependency. At the same time, The Other Typist briefly comments on the changing social sphere as well, as Rose says,

In a flash it came to me, and I suddenly understood something about my own generation….Their youth was what kept them moving, a sort of brutal vitality lingering in their muscles and bones that was all too often mistaken for athleticism and grace. But their innocence was something they were obligated to go on faking in order to maintain the illusion something fresh and spontaneous and exciting was just around the next corner.

But for Rose, the reality is that something spontaneous and exciting is around the corner; it just may not be what she thinks.

The Other Typist, though not as tight as perhaps the deft fiction of Sarah Waters, is an enthralling read I’d  compare to Affinity. It’s well worth the read as well as the edginess most readers will feel as Rindell unwinds this novel of love, obsession, and corruption.

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Review: Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

7th May 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, in exchange for an honest review.

In one of the greatest scenes I’ve read in recent memory, Julian English fantasizes about throwing his drink in the face of Harry Reilly. What has Harry done? Nothing, really. But at this particular dance, Harry Reilly tells story after story, and it’s not just that – Harry has a specific method to his storytelling, mannerisms of which Julian tires. But he dissuades himself, reminding himself that Harry has loaned him quite a bit of money to pull Julian out of a pinch at the Cadillac dealership. Plus, Julian’s afraid people might think it’s because Harry dotes on Julian’s wife, Caroline.

The narrative passes, and then one partygoer tells another that Julian did indeed toss his drink into Harry Reilly’s face, and as the inside of the book says, “in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction.”

Just a small indiscretion in the scheme of things, really, but in 1930s suburban Pennsylvania, Julian’s action threatens to topple the carefully placed house of cards that the city of Gibbsville and its elite have created. In a society where single men and women are paired off based on their looks and prospects, and the society page lists who attended whose party, Julian has willfully placed himself outside the rules, and O’Hara depicts Julian’s existential crisis in brilliant moments of stream of consciousness and internal monologue. As Julian remarks at one point, there are other, worse indiscretions – affairs conducted under the nose of one’s wife; domestic abuse; suicide – but those are one offs. Julian English’s breach is not just societal; it’s seen as evidence of English’s hatred of Catholics (Reilly is a Catholic), as evidence of his snobbishness, as his place is higher than that of Reilly’s.

John O’Hara is near brutal in his descriptions of the various characters in Appointment in Samarra – deftly describing a well-respected doctor and a small-time whiskey runner in equally harsh light. Even Julian’s wife, the lovely and admired Caroline, doesn’t escape his ire. Though she loves her husband, she’s much too concerned with the demise of the couple’s social status to concern herself with her husband’s rapid descent. Yet even in O’Hara’s bald depictions of these people, there is sympathy, to the end. For, if any people were more a product of the times, it’s the Gibbsville set. Bound by their conventions but expected to be young and free and daring, the men and women in Appointment in Samarra are, much like the title of the book, destined to burn quick and bright before meeting their fates.

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