The Receptionist

Written by Janet Groth
Review by Juliet Waldron

During the Fifties, Janet Groth came from the Midwest to the “Big City” of New York straight out of college. She landed a job as receptionist at the legendary magazine, The New Yorker. I had hoped for more insider tales about the various famous literary characters who inhabited the offices (and there are some), but this is actually an autobiography. The author grew up in an era when expectations for women were lower—although we still don’t get equal pay for equal work—so it isn’t surprising she spent twenty years in the same job. (If she’d been a good typist, as she points out, she would have never seen beyond the walls of secretarial pool.) Here is the classic story of an intelligent woman’s path to self-discovery. It is a path through love affairs, despair, and attempted suicide. She goes, during the 1950-60s, from white gloves to consciousness-raising. It’s a familiar story to anyone in my age group, but the author is a subtle storyteller. There is nothing shrill, but the feminist subtext is clear. Now a Professor Emeritus of English, Janet Groth has been, among other things since she left secretarial work, a Fulbright lecturer and a visiting fellow at Yale. Recommended.