The place: a Police Precinct located on the Lower East Side of New York City. The time: mid 1920’s. The main character: a self-described plain, unassuming, and straitlaced young woman who works as a typist in the police precinct. It is her job to sit alongside a police officer during the interrogation of a suspect in order to document any and all statements.
This particular setting for “The Other Typist” occurs at a time when New York City is riddled with conflicts unlike any before and on a grand scale. Speakeasies during Prohibition, cronyism and corruption, exploitation of workers in the booming garment & construction industries, organized labor strikes, unionization, a massive immigrant population living in squalor-like conditions, and tense race relations escalating with the performance of Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” – to name a few.
Yet the narrator centers the story specifically on the unraveling of the typist, Rose, who is seemingly unaffected by her job or the multiple events unfolding in the city around her. Until an increase in crime leads to the hiring of a new typist whose personality and demeanor are the exact opposite of Rose’s. The downward spiral for Rose begins as she cultivates an unlikely close relationship with this new co-worker. Rose is then swept into an underground world and one which completely captivates her. When a chain of events leads to a possible homicide, Rose becomes the main suspect. It is then that Rose finds herself sitting in an interrogation room — opposite a police officer and typist.
“The Other Typist” is a psychological thriller with a rather myopic story line. This can be frustrating at times since the narrator only hints at the historical events of the time, save the Speakeasies. Yet the reader is swept into the suspense in much the same manner that Rose is taken in by a woman who is her antithesis. By the time the reader gains a sense of what makes Rose tick, the very last page of the novel will bring into question any assessments made.
This work of fiction makes for a great read and one that is hard to put down. I highly recommend this novel if nothing else, to develop your own theories about a complicated main character, the significance of the other characters, consider how the dynamic historical events surrounding the story line are represented, and to make sense of its ending. It also makes for a great book club read since it would no doubt yield some lively discussions.
Next read: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls