Who is the Other Typist?

The Other Typist

When it became clear the staring match was destined for a stalemate, I shook myself free from my twin image standing on the other side of the glass.

Where to begin with The Other Typist? In recent memory no book has messed with my mind this much that wasn’t written by Gillian Flynn. It’s the kind of book that leaves you with the immediate urge to discuss it with someone. The narrator is Rose Baker, a straight-laced orphan working as a police department typist in Prohibition-era New York City. When Odalie is hired as an additional typist for her precinct, Rose’s life changes irrevocably. Odalie is a modern girl, and although Rose disapproves of the flapper lifestyle, the promise of friendship draws her into Odalie’s world.

Throughout the novel I was making note of elements that reminded me of The Great Gatsby, and my English major tendencies were rewarded. Rindell’s acknowledgments contain this statement: “I should mention there are one or two moments in this book wherein I humbly aspired—in my own small way—to pay deliberate homage to the first true love of my teenage years: Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” I would go one step further and say that Rindell riffs on some of the larger themes of Gatsby as well. Beyond the similarities of bootleggers and speakeasies, the stories have in common an observant narrator with a dynamic but mysterious friend. Both Odalie and Gatsby come from uncertain origins, and contradictory stories circulate about them.

Reinvention must have been a bit easier in the ’20s. I mean, your new acquaintances couldn’t just Google you. In her rather unorthodox way, Odalie represents of the American Dream—that you can truly make whatever life you want. (Gatsby also believes this, which contributes to his demise, but this post isn’t really about him.) The idea of reinvention extends to Rose herself. She thinks that others see her as plain and rather old-fashioned, but Odalie’s friendship gives her an opportunity to change her image. Whether this change is a corruption of Rose or Rose becoming her true self, I will leave to other readers to consider.

Reminiscent as it is of The Great Gatsby, this story could easily feel stale. But quite the contrary! Rindell’s in-depth exploration of female friendship and psychology already marks her as different. One of the novel’s strongest points is the narrative voice. Despite her intense admiration of Odalie, Rose never fades into the background. Her wry humor and moments of self-righteousness make it easy to envision her character. This may sound strange, but she actually thinks like a typist—that is, someone whose job it is to keep a precise record of the facts. On the other hand, she may not be the most reliable narrator.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I really like this book. It’s that magical combination of entertaining and thought-provoking. There’s a movie in the works, produced by and potentially starring Keira Knightley. The only thing that could make me happier is if Joe Wright was directing. (Hush, all you Keira haters.) Since the movie isn’t in production yet, there’s plenty of time to read the book first.

Hint, hint.

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