Monday, February 13, 2017

City on the Bay

By John R. Sherwood, ©1964
Cover illustration by Henry Fox

Texan Mike Rayburn left his post in the American city-hospital and flew across the world to Sydney, Australia. To the bridge, the harbor; to the city and world that was newer even somehow than the one he had left behind. On an exchange agreement, he was on loan for six months to the huge research hospital on the outskirts of the sprawling, brawling, exciting city. He was sorry to leave behind his friends and colleagues, and in particular his fiancée, Susan, with whom he had shared so much during his training and the unending strife of a surgeon’s life. But he was glad to carry the battle further afield, to meet new people, learn new methods. In this other city within a city he met the same dedication, the same loves, the same hates and envies. He met other men who were like himself; other men who pretended to be like himself and were not. He met women too, and one in particular who sought his love … and a strange man who sought his friendship.


“A surgeon was just a glorified plumber.”

“I would have liked to be a surgeon. But I suppose that most women just haven’t got the manual strength and skill.”

“Mike Rayburn couldn’t help feeling that the teenager today was a mass-produced product, irrespective of race, creed or language. They had bags of verve though, he had to give them that.”

“ ‘I enjoyed the rock and roll more than I expected,’ she said. ‘It’s a fine catharsis. A bit wearing on the nerves, however.’ ”

The hero of our story, Mike Rayburn, is not a nurse—he is a doctor from Texas offered a six-month-long fellowship at a research hospital in Sydney, Australia. This means two things: One, he will have to leave his fiancée nurse Susan Carter behind, and two, this book is not a nurse novel.

When Mike breaks the news to Susan that they will be parted for half a year, just when she was expecting to finally get married next month, she is pissed! So he hadn’t asked her to move up the ceremony and come with him, and when he meets beautiful fellow fellow Dr. Linda Purnell, he seems to forget Susan ever existed.

Linda is quickly established as an intelligent and thoughtful doctor heading the dermatology lab. Sophisticated yet guileless, “she could meet most males squarely on their own ground.” Soon she and Mike are great friends, friends who kiss and throw their arms around each other and don’t mention their fiancées waiting for them back home. They go on a lot of dates, and Mike frets that “though he always kissed Linda goodnight before leaving her, their relationship didn’t seem to be getting any further, any more intimate.” Mike is something of a louse.

We follow Mike through various medical adventures, the aforementioned dates with Linda, and his regular but infrequent and unsuccessful struggles with his conscience. Eventually he drops his wallet and a photo of Susan falls out, and that’s that. In a few more rapid-fire pages, the book perfunctorily disposes of all the characters we’ve met to date, including Susan, who writes a very pretty letter of apology to Mike for not having been more supportive. Linda takes a job in Honolulu and never sees Mike again, but sends him a fairly tragic letter saying that she’s seeing a lot of an old friend whom she doesn’t love but who proposes regularly, concluding, “Perhaps one day I will say yes. I am very fond of him and he would make a fine husband. He would want me to give up my hospital work though, and I don’t know whether I am ready to do this yet.” So while Mike walks away with a satisfying career, a loyal fiancée, and a fairly successful fling with a beautiful and intelligent woman, Linda seems destined for a loveless marriage and the forced abandonment of the career she has worked nearly a decade for.

It’s an entertaining book, if poorly copy edited (you know how I just abhor that) and a bit unchivalrous. Linda is by far the most attractive character in the book, inside and out, and her heart is clearly broken by Mike, who does not spend much time feeling bad about his behavior. It’s hard to watch someone win the game when they do not deserve to. I have to wonder who the intended audience is for this story, but if the women characters are as a rule better drawn and more interesting than the men, neither Susan nor Linda deserve the way they are treated by our alleged hero, who is clearly a cavalier and shallow ass. We are not told if Mike mentions his affair with Linda to Susan, but I’m guessing he never gets around to that, either. I might forgive him if he demonstrated any significant remorse or self-awareness of his failures in this situation, but in the end all we’re left with his is sad wish, “If only Western men were allowed more than one wife …” For my part, I’m going to lament that I spent so much time with such a callow ass. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Daredevil Nurse

By Arlene J. Fitzgerald, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Dr. Stag Shaylor fascinated Nurse Robin Reid—and most of the people in her home town. Why did the gifted young surgeon live alone in the strange old house? Who were his late-night visitors? Were his unusual medical practices only unorthodox—or dangerous fakery? Robin had to find out the answers—for she sensed that Stag Shaylor could be more exciting—and dangerous—than Robin’s daring hobby of skydiving!


“I don’t want to have to pry you away, when the time comes for us to get married. I want you to come peacefully.”

“A fellow has to be lucrative, if he plans to take on a wife, someday.”

“The girls feel they have to comply, in order to succeed. The more daring the neckline, the better. IF a few of us would show a little righteous indignation against violations of good taste … ”

“You look like cotton candy. Good enough to eat.”

“Maybe I’m wise to plan on marriage, after I’ve satisfied my career urges.”

Not long after bestowing Arlene J. Fitzgerald with the top berth on the list in the 2016 VNRN awards, I picked up Daredevil Nurse—and found it really not so awful. High praise for her.

Alas, the cover illustration does not give us an accurate prediction of what nurse Robin Reid will be getting herself into between the book’s covers. Coming home to Pine Grove, Oregon, after completing her nurse’s training, she is starting her first job at Pine Grove Memorial. She’s also coming home to Jay Bradley, her high school sweetheart, with whom we are repeatedly reminded she has no formal understanding despite a five-year relationship. The couple discusses their future a lot, though, Jay telling her she’ll have to quit her job when they get married. Like all VNRN heroines with a longtime steady, she really doesn’t like much about Jay: He’s reckless, inconsiderate, and not very interested in her. He takes her skydiving regularly, which she doesn’t enjoy at all, but she doesn’t feel comfortable just telling him that. Instead of the practical medical bag she’s long admired, it’s a sky blue parachute he gives her, one that matches the jumpsuit he gave her last year. But “if she wanted Jay Bradley’s love, she had to pretend”—and never mind that it’s not clear why she wants his love in the first place.

Enter the doctor who makes her tachycardic—named, I am very sorry to tell you, Stag Shaylor. He is quite hot, but aloof and distant with the nurses—until he chats up Robin in front of the elevators and starts the gossip mill churning. Soon she’s assisting him in the OR at his request, and defending his unusual practice of talking to the anesthetized patients as if they are conscious, gently encouraging them throughout their surgical procedures. Curiously, the hospital is in uproar about  this harmless idiosyncrasy, and Dr. Stag is on the brink of being drummed out of the hospital for this and for his thoroughly unforgiveable habit of flying his small prop plane out of town every weekend and not telling anyone where he’s going or what he’ll be doing.

Robin eventually is invited to come with him one weekend—and Stag gives her that shiny medical bag she’s been wanting for so long (why didn’t she just buy it for herself?)—but when they arrive, she’s livid to find out he’s running a small general practice in an isolated coastal town. She thinks it’s just a ploy to win her over as he faces a medical board inquiry—as if the truth is some sort of trick, but he invites her to assist him in office hours, and she’s soon won over. The backstory she eventually learns is that Stag’s best friend in medical school was planning to open this clinic, but was attacked by a shark before graduation and died because medical care was too distant to save him.

Meanwhile, Jay conveniently takes a crop-dusting contract out of town for two weeks, freeing Robin to go out with Stag and succumb to his “male demand,” which here is a euphemism for kissing her. Here she begins to demonstrate some fairly nauseous beliefs, such as “knowing with deep, sure feminine instinct, that the only real comfort a man could know came to him through his own aggressiveness.”

A forest fire sends Robin and Stag on a medical mission in his plane to render medical aid to a trapped movie crew. The adventure ends in Robin being offered a movie contract, and Stag tells her he would have proposed if she weren’t going off to Hollywood—and she never bothers to mention, though she’s now in love with Stag, that she has no intention whatsoever of leaving nursing.

Jay comes home and she immediately breaks up with him, now that she feels all is lost with Stag, that “it was up to Dr. Shaylor to come to her, if he was interested. She wanted to shout out her desires, knowing instinctively that if she did, she might lose him for all time. She could only sit quietly, alerted by her knowledge that a man wanted to be the aggressor, had to be, to fulfill his own male urges, just as a woman had to remain silent, as a fulfillment of her best, female self.” She immediately follows up this revolting theory by sky diving out of Stag’s airplane to adjust the landing lights so Stag can land his plane and deliver a baby in his weekend job.

It’s easily the best Arlene Fitzgerald book I’ve read, but it is not without flaws, the most egregious being her insane attitude about being a passive little ornament—which, I should note, she completely undoes at the end of the book by kissing Stag on the mouth when is marriage proposal is interrupted by that darned baby—“it was a wanton thing to do,” she thinks. The I-really-do-love-my-irritating-boyfriend theme is not as badly done here as it is in some VNRNs, as Robin soon realizes that she does not love Jay, though her inability to be upfront with him about her true feelings, while not surprising, is still annoying. Without what I hope are relics of the times, it’s a good read, even if Robin is not the daredevil we are led to believe by the otherwise glorious cover.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Homecoming Nurse

By Rose Dana 
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1968

When Jane Weaver’s marriage ended unhappily, she decided to work as a nurse on Boston rather than return to the small town where the romance had begun. But then her father’s hospital in Whitebridge was threatened by a lack of funds and Jane, out of loyalty, went home to help. She had to risk many things – reminders of her past, the censure of her friends, a meeting with Steve Benson, the man she had jilted. But also, Whitebridge itself had changed. A new black doctor had introduced the racial question, people had grown subtly different, and Jane found not the threads of her old life but a new challenge to her heart.


“Then your marriage did turn out as badly as everyone predicted?”

“ ‘Stay away from all that thinking,’ was his advice. ‘Let me do the planning for us.’ ”

“I wish I’d had the good sense to find myself a husband when I was your age.”

“Poor Dr. Davis has lots of ability, even if he is colored, which I’m sure he can’t help. But it does make some of the patients uneasy with him.”

“She looked the mental case she was.”

This book has more taboos—divorce! racially exclusive country clubs! mental illness! chasing married men! Jello molds!—than any other VNRN I’ve encountered. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing that sets it apart from the others.

Jane Weaver RN is returning home to Whitebridge, NH, after a two-year stint at the Peter Bent Brigham in Boston. Seems the hospital her father, Dr. Graham Weaver, has championed, is on the brink of being closed by the town council. A larger hospital just an hour’s drive away is siphoning off their patients, and the stress of keeping the hospital afloat is allegedly sapping her father’s health, so she is lured back to care for him.

She’s nervous about seeing her father again, after her marriage to a handsome but alcoholic golf pro, of which he had disapproved from the start, had fallen apart after eight months, but apart from some catty remarks and Jane’s feelings that “I have to expect to suffer for my stupidity, no one really seems to care. And speaking of uncaring, once home, Jane spends little time with her reportedly failing father—who seems tired but otherwise well, actually—and doesn’t pay much attention to how he’s feeling, so it’s a little unclear why she would chuck her former life for such a shallow reason.

Jane’s best friend in Whitebridge, Maggie, is not really dating Dr. Boyd Davis, which is a good thing, because even if he is a polite, competent doctor, the scandal is that he’s black, so his “friendship” with Maggie, clearly a love affair, cannot be called such. Jane is concerned that, should they marry, Dr. Boyd’s practice will be shunned. As it is, the local country club bars Dr. Boyd from the dining room, which doesn’t prevent the town mayor, Jane, Maggie, and Dr. Boyd’s medical colleagues from dining there. “I was going to turn in my membership card,” says Maggie. “But then I realized what a foolish, futile gesture that would be. Everyone would know I did it because I feel as I do about Boyd. They’d pity me, but they wouldn’t change their minds.” All I can say is that it’s a good thing Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King didn’t share her apathy.

You will not be at all surprised to learn that a serious accident occurs in which the victim requires immediate surgery and cannot be transported to the larger hospital in time. Undergoing surgery in the Whitebridge hospital, in an interesting dramatic turn the patient dies nonetheless, and with her any hope fo keeping Benson Memorial open. As Dr. Boyd and other medical colleagues of Dr. Weaver’s flee New Hampshire for warmer pastures and the hospital winds down, will some miracle solution pop up and save the day?

This book offers more to chew on than the usual VNRN. Though the attitudes are extremely dated, the problems with Dr. Boyd and Maggie, and the small hospital’s relevance in the modern era are not presented as obvious one-sided arguments. Apart from that, though, and a couple of wild scenes with the books’ more outrageous vixens, it’s a fairly bland story without much zip to it. Dan Ross, writing here as Rose Dana, has never been one of my favorite authors (witness his cumulative C average over six books). Here he manages to avoid his most outrageous sins (relentlessly referring to characters as “the dark girl,” for one) but can’t really pull off a good book even with more complex themes than usual. If I am compelled by my mission to read his books, you, fortunately, have other options. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

2015-2016 VNRN Awards

It is with both triumph and shame that I bring you the best (and worst) of the year, both because I abandoned this blog for eight months and because, obviously, I came back! This year’s roundup therefore includes the orphaned eight reviews from 2015 in addition to the 34 from 2016.

What you need to know: Winners are chosen from the 42 VNRNs I’ve read these two years 29 different authors. The Best and Worst Authors categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (312 to date), but only authors with more than one review are included; the One-Hit Wonders category is reserved for the best books by authors with only one review.

1. Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
2. Factory Nurse, Hilary Neal
3. Runaway Nurse, Ethel Hamill (pseud. Jean Francis Webb)
4. Nurse Barlow, Lucy Agnes Hancock
5. Police Nurse, William Neubauer
6. Duty Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes Hunter)
7. Queen’s Nurse, Jane Arbor
8. Night-Duty Nurse, Katherine McComb

Doctor Day, Thomas Stone (pseud. Florence Stonebraker)

1. Nurse Kathryn, Peggy O’More
2. Holiday for a Nurse, Joanne Holden (pseud. Jane Corby)
3. Nurse Gina, Joanne Holden (pseud. Jane Corby)
4. Nurse in Las Vegas, Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
5. No Escape from Love, Bennie C. Hall
6. Wings for Nurse Bennett, Adeline McElfresh
7. Nurse in Panic, Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)

Woman Doctor, cover illustration by Tom Miller

1. “She had gone out with him twice, but one time didn’t really count because they had gone to a movie she had wanted to see, a movie called The Savage Eye, which left him shaky and unfit for normal pursuits afterward.” Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
2. “Donna was suddenly very impressed with Steve’s ability in hand-to-hand combat.” Nurse in Istanbul, Ralph E. Hayes
3. “Sit here and contemplate the rewards of sin. I’ll case the joint.” Runaway Nurse, Ethel Hamill (pseud. Jean Francis Webb)
4. “How do you like being an incurable disease, Beautiful?” My Love an Altar, Joan Sargent (pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham)
5. “Margaret Wilkerson had come to nursing through a simple process of elimination, more or less as young men of small talent decide to take up business administration in college instead of the humanities.” Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
6. “Do I detect an acquisitive female gleam in your eye in connection with this paragon of all manly virtues?” Woman Doctor, Peter Baldwin
7. “I’m not very hot for hardware.” Disaster Area Nurse, Arlene Hale
8. “My experience of nurses is that they’re always ravenous and cost a fortune to feed.” Hockey Star Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes Hunter)
9. “ ‘You make me want to cry,’ Ralph said. ‘What a hideous waste! A girl with legs like yours reading that kind of stuff.’ ” Nurse with a Past, Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)
10. “The guy has his good points. He’s asked me twice for a date.” Duty Nurse, Diana Douglas (pseud. Richard Wilkes Hunter)

1. Jeanne Judson (3.9 average, based on 3 reviews)
1. Marguerite Mooers Marshall (3.9 average, based on 3 reviews)
3. Faith Baldwin (3.8 average, based on 4 reviews)
4. William Neubauer (3.7 average, based on 2 reviews)
5. Ethel Hamill (3.3 average, based on 5 reviews)
6. Elizabeth Hoy (3.3 average, based on 3 reviews)
7. Helen B. Castle (3.3 average, based on 2 reviews)
7. Joyce Dingwell (3.3 average, based on 2 reviews)

ONE-HIT WONDERS: Best VNRN authors with one review
1. “K”, Mary Roberts Rinehart
3. Surgical Call, Margaret Sangster
4. Nurse Pro Tem, Glenna Finley
5. Walk out of Darkness, Arlene Karson
6. Woman Doctor, Alice Lent Covert
7. Town Nurse—Country Nurse, Marjorie Lewty
8. Hospital Zone, Mary Stolz
9. Factory Nurse, Hilary Neal
10. Night-Duty Nurse, Katherine McComb

1. Arlene Fitzgerald (1.2 average, based on 2 reviews)
2. Patti Carr (1.5 average, based on 2 reviews)
3. Peggy O’More Blocklinger (writing as Peggy O’More and Jeanne Bowman) (1.7 average, based on 10 reviews)
4. Ruth McCarthy Sears (1.8 average, based on 3 reviews)
5. Virginia Smiley (1.9 average, based on 2 reviews)
6. Elizabeth Kellier (2.0 average, based on 2 reviews)
6. Suzanne Roberts (2.0 average, based on 5 reviews)
6. Isabel Stewart Way (2.0 average, based on 3 reviews)
9. William E. Daniel Ross (writing as Rose Dana, Ann Gilmer, and Rose Williams) (2.1 average, based on 6 reviews)
9. Jane Corby (writing as Jane Corby and Joanne Holden) (2.1 average, based on 11 reviews)
9. Richard Wilkes Hunter (writing as Diana Douglas) (2.1 average, based on 11 reviews)

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Vacation for Nurse Dean

By Sharon Heath, ©1966

Lovely Nurse Avis arrived at Applecroft with only a vision of a peaceful rest in mind, after long months of tireless, uninterrupted nursing. But the vision was soon to be shattered as the days became increasingly filled by the attentions of two attractive young men: charming Keith Pearson and the serious-minded doctor, Bruce Horsley. But romance was not the only surprise Fate held for Avis—for the young American nurse could not reject an urgent plea for help which would pose dangerous consequences to her career and her newly discovered love …


The cover illustration instantly brought me to Women Running from Houses, a blog that seems to have given up the ghost, but it’s still a great idea; this book is a prime example of ithe sub-genre, Nurses Running from Houses (see also: Nurse at the Castle). Unfortunately, the cover illo has absolutely nothing to do with the story, which is about Nurse Avis Dean, who is forced to take several months of vacation—can you imagine!!!—by the unfeeling hospital chief. She curiously decides to visit the home town of her British mother, who swooned for an American soldier, married him, returned to the U.S. with him, and regretted it ever after.  You can see why she opts for Calberton Prior in Dorset, mum’s home town.

Arriving in Dorset, Avis is staying with her mother’s childhood friend, Margaret Pearson, and her two children, Nell and Keith. Guess what? Keith is instantly smitten with Avis and makes a creepy ass of himself by insisting she go out with him—she’s too polite to say no, unfortunately—and forcing himself on her. Even more unfortunately, the town medico, Dr Bruce Horsley, has the uncanny knack of turning up whenever Avis is grappling with Keith, so he soon takes a dim view of her morals. For her part, she seems to like him, though we really don’t see enough of him to understand the attraction.

Eventually Keith’s stalking proves too much for Avis and she starts looking around for a way out that won’t offend Keith’s kind mother. Fortunately, sort of, villager Lance Alloway has recently lost his wife to childbirth, and is saddled with a sickly baby and a cold sister who has swooped down to take over, and Avis quickly scores the job of baby nurse. What she does all day and what’s wrong with the baby are never really explained, as who wants to spend the whole day with a baby when there are men to swoon over? Rather we watch Avis fence with the cold sister Blanche, pine over the aloof Bruce, and offer an obliging shoulder for the overwhelmed (but not especially grief-stricken) widower Lance.

As Blanche becomes increasingly nasty, suggesting that Avis is after pretty much every man in the neighborhood, Avis is saved from yet another bad situation by the baby’s inevitable death, which occurs when Avis has taken the evening off and left him alone with Blanche. To escape the oppressive atmosphere at home, Avis goes for a walk in the countryside and meets a lovely woman with a friendly dog and a room to let, and promptly moves in, since she can’t leave the country until the inquest is over.

I need go no further with the plot, which conveniently pairs off a total of six characters, as it will sound about as unexciting as it actually was. The thing is, though, that this book is written in a gentle, pleasant style that makes it worth reading, no matter how frivolous the actual storyline actually is. In fact, it is hard for me to believe that this book was written by the same author as Jungle Nurse, which was bad enough to earn a coveted berth on the 2010 VNRN Awards Worst Books category. Nurse Dean may not have zip enough to yield even one single specimen for the Best Quotes category, and Avis’ dealings—or inability to satisfactorily deal—with the men around her are usually irritating, but it’s still not necessarily a complete waste of time, paradoxical as that may sound. This is a perfect example of how it’s not always what you say but how you say it that matters.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Factory Nurse

By Hilary Neal, ©1961
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik

Brigid didn’t really want to give up hospital nursing to work in a factory, but her father had a particular reason for wishing her to. Robert Bairnsdale, on the other hand, hoped she would give up nursing altogether and marry him. Only Morley Scott was completely undemanding, wanting only the right to love her. If only Brigid would make up her mind how she felt about him! Perhaps, she felt, getting away from the hospital would help her to sort things out. But when she met Guy Wisden, the immensely attractive factory manager, it looked as if she had only exchanged one set of complications for another.


“Marriage was the last resort of the inept.”

“All experience being valuable, as my grandmother constantly reminds me. Usually when she wants a fire lit, or some such chore, I may say.”

“What men call feminine intuition is really an extremely rapid reasoning process. Men won’t admit that women can indulge in such swift logic, so they label it intuition, and tell themselves it’s a kind of magic. They don’t mind being beaten by magic, but they can’t bear to have women beating them at their own logical game.”

You should not be surprised to learn that as this book opens, Brigid Flinders is leaving her post at the hospital to go work in a factory. The factory in question is owned by her father, but this is to be one of many secrets in this book: The factory has been making parts for a top secret government contract to build space vehicles, but for some reason the parts are all having to be scrapped for poor quality, too great a coincidence, and Brigid’s aging father suspects sabotage and asks her to go snoop around on site to see if she can figure out what’s going on. In addition to her job, Brigid is also leaving behind a few young men, of course: Dr. Morley Scott, who has been sweet on her for several years and who is constantly rubbing her arm but has never declared himself; and Robert Bairnsdale, a wealthy businessman whose father is her father’s partner and who never has time for her, but constantly pressures her to marry him.

Why stop at two young men when you can have three? Brigid is soon entwined with the factory manager, Guy Wisden, who lives downstairs from her. He starts out with a hard mouth, cold eyes, and a rude manner, but she soon tells him off. He takes this surprisingly well and they part with an “electric” handshake. Before long he’s kissing her; it’s actually a well-written passage that’s not at all hokey and simply evokes her passion.

As the mystery of who is sabotaging the plant’s production escalates, someone breaks into Brigid’s flat and Guy’s cat is murdered. Then Brigid’s father dies unexpectedly, and in a confusing bit of business, there is some buying and selling of the factory’s stock in a takeover bid that’s intended to depress the value of the factory so it can be acquired by a secret buyer, all of which was rather difficult to follow. There are several more attempts to injure Brigid, even kill her with cyanide-laced salmon, and Brigid and one of her friends at the factory figure out how the sabotage is occurring, but not quite who’s behind it. In the midst of all this, Guy runs hot and cold, Morley visits with middling success, and Robert becomes increasingly domineering as he tries to run Brigid’s business interests for her, now that her father has died. 

Really, there’s an awful lot of plot here in 191 pages, more than in most VNRNs, and apart from the confusing business machinations, it’s largely managed with skill. The writing is clever in places, with well-drawn characters, and Brigid is a feisty gal who does her best to tell off Robert and his meddling family; the fact that it takes her several tries to put the message across strikes me as more realistic than irritating. The ending has a rather sexist twist involving Brigid’s inheritance, but the book is in fact 55 years old, so that can be forgiven. Factory Nurse is unusual in that the author clearly put a lot of effort into it, and fortunately for us readers, she has the chops to pull of an ambitious story that’s as action-packed as it is sweet.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Nurse Gina

By Joanne Holden, ©1963

“This is a wonderful piece of writing!” Ripley Crawford hugged Nurse Gina. “Your father would be proud of you, honey, and I am, too!” Gina’s father had been a famous writer and she, too, felt the need to create. But her duties at Butler Pavilion and her devotion to Doctor Alex had kept her from taking her writing too seriously before. Now she had a chance to write professionally. Could she leave her nursing and Alex for the glamour of the TV world?


“I don’t hire them unless they look good enough to get married right away.”

“The TV world is one of hypertension.”

“Oh, oh, oh! I’ve got an awful pain, Nurse. Will you hold my hand?”

“I hope I don’t have to work in there—they don’t put any clothes on the patients.”

“Mary Lou, I am really delighted with the formation of the protective eschar on your cheek.”

Some books are just like nails on a chalkboard, and this, I am sorry to report, is just such a one. Nurse Gina is a sanctimonious pain who starts off the book in the most unusual fashion by proving herself to be a bitch: When she meets her patient Ripley Crawford, a movie star with a broken leg, he showers her with the usual compliments, to wit, “You don’t need to take my temperature. It just went up six points.” So she is furious to find that in fact his temperature—his pulse, too!—are completely normal!! Her outrage mounts as she learns that he broke his leg in a charity golf tournament, and she deliberately drops a vase of flowers that he has asked her to remove from the room. Called on the carpet by Dr. Alex Simmons, who has recommended her to the post, she is unrepentantly rude. When the doctor tells her that he was thinking of her secret desire to be a writer, and that Rip is looking for just such a being for his TV show, she humbles herself enough to send a phony letter of apology to Rip, which he accepts.

Rip takes her out and listens to her proposal for a documentary-like series following nurses through all the major wars of the last few centuries, and though it sounds like a complete bore, he inexplicably goes for it. He hires her to write the show, which involves tape recording conversations so as to use them for inspiration in her writing. I expected this pitiful gimmick to lead somewhere, like to an overheard secret, but no, it just means Gina goes to a lot of parties lugging a giant box around and doing a lot of transcribing afterward. This peculiar duty does not take up so much of her time, however, as to prevent her from helping out when one of the party guests contemplates suicide: After he tells her straight out he is going to kill himself, she compassionately replies, “I don’t think you ought to spoil the party. Linda went to a great deal of trouble planning it. She might be annoyed with you.” When he nevertheless gives it a shot, literally, Gina overturns a table onto him so the bullet only grazes a temple. Another meaningless plot twist, we soon find that the victim’s wife is pregnant and now he is blissfully happy.

Now that she’s a writer, Gina spends a lot of time typing. Rip stops by to kiss her now and then, though the most we learn about her feelings toward this potential sexual harassment are that she “accepted his kiss without emotion” and spends a lot of time darting out of his arms. More pointless scenes occur, such as the one in which Gina is photographed tending to Rip at a nightclub after he’s punched out, or when she visits the campus where her deceased father was a famous psychology professor, only to find that his textbook is considered out of date. She’s bawling on the quad when Rip turns up to tell her that his schmoozing of TV executives has paid off and they have a meeting to pitch their series to a major TV network. At the meeting, Gina is heckled by the assembled old men, and she snaps back, “I did not expect to find, in a business office, the childish viciousness that I have met in this room today.” Cowed, the execs sign the show and plan to start casting next week. I’m sure that’s how it happens in Hollywood all the time.

Out of the blue, Gina decides she’s in love with Rip. For his part, he’s about to propose when a ship in the East River blows up and Gina hurries off to the hospital. Two weeks later, she takes an afternoon off from the burn unit and drops by Rip’s office, where she puts off his attempts to propose, telling him that their worlds are too far apart, and besides, she’d rather be a nurse than a writer. He responds that she should keep being a nurse, if that’s what she wants to do, but she turns him down nonetheless. Then at the hospital Christmas party, we are treated to the lyrics of no less than seven carols before Dr. Alex, who has been a virtual ghost through most of the book, pops up to exchange some truly nauseating dialogue with Gina and bring the book to a close.

There is just too much wrong with this book. Gina’s behavior is often sanctimonious and annoying, and the TV series that we spend so much time watching her develop from a number of different angles comes across as just dull. I did not understand her choices, either to try writing in the beginning of the book or to give it up at the end. Gina’s decisions in regard to her men is no less bewildering: Her relationships with her two main men, Rip and Dr. Alex, are either nonexistent or shallow, and her alleged feelings of love toward them are inexplicable. I really did not care what happened to her TV show or her career, to say nothing of which man she decided to marry. Nurse Gina, the book and the character, are not worth your time.