Saturday, March 16, 2019

Nurse Lavinia’s Mistake

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1968

Staff Nurse Lavinia Bolland was tired and worn out by her responsible job in a busy hospital, so when she was offered a post as a nurse in a girls’ boarding school, she decided to accept. Her friends all told her she was making a big mistake—but Lavinia couldn’t agree with them …


“Being a nurse is more than looking neat and laying a cool hand on a fevered brow!”

“Most folks can do a great deal more than they imagine if they’re only determined!”

“Mrs. Wordsworth is a sweet little woman, who asks nothing more than to be left alone to look after her home and to tend the pot plants she’s grown herself from seed.”

Nurse Lavinia Bolland has been, like many VNRN heroines, working at an understaffed hospital in the throes of a flu epidemic. She’s completely exhausted, so she opts for something most VNRNs reject as a point of pride: the escape hatch. She is nursing the headmistress of a girls’ school through appendicitis, and Miss Clamp—who begins the book named Mary but makes an unexpected change to Laura midway through the book—offers her a job as school nurse. Taking this job is the “worst mistake of your life,” Nurse Lavinia is told, though it’s hard to see how, since the matron offers her her old position back any time she wants it. But the job is seen by everyone in the book as a lesser position: The school doctor Marshall Bowie, her new boyfriend Roy Conliff, even Mary/Laura Clamp herself all tell her that they hope and expect that Lavinia will not be slumming in this position for long.

Part of the reason Lavinia has left town is because of Dr. Peter Noble, a researcher working on infectious diseases who spends most of his time in the lab. Those rare occasions when he emerges he is “always expecting her to be there, ready and waiting to fall in with whatever mood happened to be his at the time.” She’s dated him casually for two years now, though she has no idea what his intentions are as he has never mentioned love or marriage or offered her more than a chaste peck. Curiously, this very minimal relationship has branded Lavinia as Peter’s property, and not one other male on the hospital staff has asked her for a date in years—making hers the only nurse-novel hospital ever in which men don’t routinely go after any unmarried woman who catches their eye. She too seems to have fallen into this trap and despite no real feeling for Peter, she “would be quite willing to wait until he had done all he wished to do …. It would take years, but …  Peter would never be able to hold it against her that she had not thought enough about him to be able to wait.” Pity he doesn’t think enough about her to make any feeling whatsoever plain to her.

So she is happy to meet Roy, who is a coach about to become a housemaster at the boys’ school down the road, and who immediately treats her with far more interest, kindness and ardor that Peter ever did; he treats her “as a person and not as someone thought to belong to someone else.” After a few dates with Roy, their blooming romance is going swimmingly, and Lavinia suddenly realizes that since starting her new job “she had not given one thought to Peter Noble!” From then on, unfortunately, she makes up for lost time by thinking of Peter Noble constantly, and the emotional writhing that ensues quickly becomes wearing.

The hook that she hangs her neurosis on is the fact that a spoiled, wealthy 17-year-old girl has a crush on Roy and is planning to have her father fund his career as a professional athlete—a career and a girl that Roy emphatically tells Lavinia early on that he has absolutely no interest in, that he wants to stay on at his school and work his way up on his own steam. One minute Lavinia is confident that “there was nothing underhand or deceitful about him, she would have staked her life on it!” and the next she has a “prickle of fear along her spine” because “of the man himself she had no knowledge, only her instinctive feeling that he was kind and generous, and that he hadn’t a mean thought in his head.” You can see why she would feel so anxious about him, when he’s calling her daily and is disappointed if she puts him off. One minute she’d decided she can’t talk to him about her concerns and the next she does, and he is completely sweet and reassuring, but ten pages later we’re back to worrying the issue to death. She does not deserve Roy.

If more evidence of this were needed, she invites Peter Noble up for the weekend and starts dreaming about this cold clam of a man who has given her literally nothing in the two years she was dating him. Again we encounter her schizophrenic ability to simultaneously think two contradictory things of her beaux: “Now she thought of him, thought hard, of all the friendly outings they had enjoyed, the casual goodnight kisses which had evidently meant nothing to either of them, and wondered. He must think something of her, if only as a friend … and, for the first time since she had come to Avonlea, she felt he might prove the port in a storm she had thought of him as being once before.” With no apparent reason, Lavinia has worked herself into a crisis and thinks of choosing between Peter and Roy as “one of the most important decisions of her whole life!”

It’s just not clear why she feels she needs to consider Peter at all, since he has clearly never considered her once—and when he shows up, continues to trend with a monologue about the bacteria he’s growing in the lab. Finally she realizes Peter is a dud, so her frantic worrying of the last chapter is quickly rendered a tempest in a teapot—and so she manufactures another one  by deciding she must quit her job immediately so she won’t stand in the way of Roy accepting the rich girl’s proposal, a proposal he has utterly no interest in, because in three months Roy had “never even hinted that he loved her”—this despite the fact that she had ten minutes earlier been considering a man for whom she had waited two years in vain to say the same—“and yet she had been so certain in her mind that he loved her,” far more than she ever believed of Peter. Lavinia needs some serious therapy.

In the interim, Miss Clamp is bizarrely trying to se up Lavinia with Dr. Bowie, though he is clearly in love with Miss Clamp and she with him, and then the dorm catches on fire and Lavinia has to rescue a teacher who’s gone back for her makeup case, and the catastrophe—and a new promotion—spur Roy to propose, and she agrees that she’s always known that they’d be together for always, the liar, and we can close the book wondering if Lavinia will have ten minutes of joy before she’s back in the throes of irrational insecurity, and how long it will take Roy to realize that his betrothed is a nut job.

If Lavinia weren’t so completely neurotic, the book would be pleasant enough, but I just can’t enjoy watching this kind of self-inflicted emotional trauma, and it’s not clear to me why the author would think the endless waffling would make a good book.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nurse Willow’s Ward

By Jan Tempest, ©1965

When two devoted sisters love the same man, there is bound to be unhappiness; especially in a case like this, where young Dr. Fyncham couldn’t make up his mind between Willow, the competent nurse, and Rose, the sweet, shy home girl. Probably it was just as well for all concerned that a more forceful character took a hand in the game.


“She wished desperately that the conventions didn’t insist that a girl must wait for a man to voice his intentions toward her.”

“Why must sons be so hopelessly obtuse where their mothers are concerned?”

“Never try to be arch or playful. You just haven’t the figure for it.”

“When a girl appears to make it obvious that she has no time for a certain man, that man can be sure she is interested in him.”

“You don’t grovel. You couldn’t. It would spoil the perfect creases in your trousers.”

“Why don’t you kiss more and argue less?”

Nurse Willow Madderley is one an interestingly named family that includes sisters Anchusa, Saffron, and Rose, plus their father. On the opening page, we are attending the reception of sister Saffron, who just having been “safely” married, all but ceases to exist to the family and will barely be mentioned for the remainder of the book. The Madderleys have moved to town recently because their father got into trouble by telling fortunes and was denounced as a fraud. So here they are, trying to keep a low profile in this small English town.

At the reception, we are trailing along behind Nurse Willow, dancing with Dr. Howard Fyncham, who “had a weakness for attractive girls,” but “there was no future in any of his flirtations. His mother saw to that.” Willow has unfortunately succumbed to Howard’s superficial charms; though she seems aware of the shallows of his character, she is still unable to resist him. Howard is also jerking along Willow’s sister Rose, who serves mainly as unpaid maid and companion to his whining barnacle of a mother, crippled by what sounds like rheumatoid arthritis. Willow feels that her major handicap in winning Howard for herself is that she is “too large altogether,” but she would do better to focus on her inclination to be nasty. When the dance is interrupted by a 13-year-old apparent vagabond seeking help for her little brother Perry, who has been pinned under a farm truck, Willow and Howard rush off to assist—Willow making snide remarks to Patty, who immediately nails Willow and calls her “bossy and conceited and horrid.” Willow immediately proves the last charge by worrying more about her dress than the child squashed into the mud: “She didn’t intend to ruin the first new evening gown she had bought for two years.”

Meeting Patty and Perry’s older brother March Carrick-Carre, “a large, raw-boned, ungainly looking man with close-cropped, bristling, fiery-red hair,” she immediately lays into him for not having fetched a blanket, and her meanness is chalked up to an “outraged maternal instinct,” which is pretty hard to swallow after witnessing her rude condescension to Patty on the ride over. “Would March offer to pay for the damage to her slippers, stockings and evening gown?” she fumes “caustically” through gritted teeth as she helps carry Perry down a dirt road on a stretcher. Back at the hospital she cares for young Perry on the night shift, who has not endeared himself to the rest of the staff because he is angry and suspicious—it seems both his parents died after being admitted to a hospital, so he is convinced he is going to die there as well. March, who it turns out has been repeatedly denied access to his brother during the day, climbs in through the window to see Perry, and Willow fights some more with him, bringing up—yet again—her ruined party clothes. “What’s a ruined frock compared with your inward glow of virtue?” he counters, and though he offers to pay for her dress, she surprisingly declines, after all her fussing about it. March is quickly revealed as a funny, straightforward, affectionate man who doesn’t deserve the nasty Willow; he and Perry decide that she’s less of a willow and more of a horse chestnut, or possibly a copper beech. When he calls her handsome, capable and durable, she snaps that the words sound like an advertisement for a household appliance. “You would be quite a valuable appliance in any household, I imagine. You grow on one,” he answers coolly. Love will clearly ensue, sealed by the additional fact that he’s much bigger than even the towering Willow. “I dare say some fellows would call you a hefty armful, but you’re just right for me. Care to experiment?” he asks her. If Willow does resist, I find it hard not to love this guy.

Instead, Willow continues to pine for Howard, who increasingly demonstrates that he is a limp, exploitative, unfeeling ass when he allows Rose to spend hours a day caring for his mother, neglecting her duties as housekeeper of her own family, without even a word of thanks. “I don’t like to feel that we’re imposing on her good nature,” he says to Willow, who seems to have caught some of March’s honesty and replies, “You are, of course.” So in a moment of weakness Howard proposes to Rose, but then goes crawling off to Willow to try to get her to help him out of it, now that he’s had time to think about the qualities he wants in a wife, who could “do so much to lighten her husband’s burdens. It was amazingly difficult to get a competent secretary to answer the telephone, keep accounts, and help in the surgery,” and a nurse like Willow, “who was so crisp, astringent and undemanding,” would be ideal. During this pathetic interview, Willow is “quivering with anticipation” in the hope that he will declare himself to her, regardless of how abominably he’s treated her sister. “‘This is it,’ she had thought eagerly. ‘Hold tight, girl! Dreams do sometimes come true…’” After a number of horrible excuses about why he should dump Rose, he’s about to tell Willow that she’s the one he wants—and it seems she’s horrid enough that she might accept—when March barges in to deflate them both. “Have I interrupted a tender moment? Good! Doctors and nurses are better apart in their private lives. Who wants to go around in a perpetually hygienic and sterile atmosphere?” he laughs. He is way too good for Willow, but seems stuck on her anyway.

Speaking of stuck, Howard seems to be—true to his slimy character he refuses to give Rose a ring or ask her to name the day she will make him the happiest of men. Eventually the weasel works his way around to telling Rose that “they” have made a mistake, ending their secret engagement—and her indentured servitude to his mother—though later he lies to his mother and says that it was Rose who broke it off. His cruel treatment of Rose finally wakes Willow to his true nature, and here her ability to make nasty comments is put to good use as Howard tries to worm back into Willow’s good graces when it turns out that his mother wants Rose back. “If he wanted Rose to take him on again, he must do his own groveling,” she decides. Rose, for her part, is standing firm for once: “Howard had tried her too far and she couldn’t forget it.” But, alas, eventually she does, when Howard pleads—not hard enough—that she was always the only one for him. March also triumphs over Willow’s stubbornness—in part because he shows up at the hospital just in time to help after the hospital has caught on fire and she’s trying to shepherd all the pediatric patients down the slippery fire escape.

There is a lot more to this excellent, brimming book than just the stories of Willow and Rose; sister Anchusa has her own excellent story line, as does a former girlfriend of March’s. Many of the characters in this book are just delightful, particularly March, Patty, and Willow’s father. Only Willow is a slightly  bitter pill, though she improves over time. The writing is amusing and campy, and it’s easy to become immersed in this comfortable world, so addictively drawn that it feels like you’re visiting a real neighborhood. My only disappointments were that Howard won in the end with little comeuppance for his manipulative, spineless character, and that Willow too doesn’t really regret her earlier poor behavior, or seem to learn from it or evolve. But in the setting of this charming story, these flaws are minor and should not keep you from Jan Tempest’s delightful book.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Night Club Nurse

By Rose Dana, 
pseud. William “Dan” Ross, ©1965

“So I’m jealous!” Nurse Gwen Hale remembered Dr. Jack Belson’s bitter words on their last date. “Night clubs have a big appeal for you lately!” She had to admit it was true. Her weekend job as backstage nurse in Tom Rapella’s night club had opened a dazzling new world. One that was excitingly different from her hospital duties: She also had to admit something else. Before she’d met Tom Rapella, her future as Dr. Jack’s wife seemed settled. But Tom was irresistibly attractive. And being near him did strange things to her heart …


“It seemed fame, fortune and faulty dispositions went hand in hand.”

“You look especially tantalizing in your uniform.”

“I want a pretty girl like you who can hang around in evening dress but be ready to jump to her first aid kit when she’s really needed.”

“A person is bound to catch something from time to time. I’d just as soon catch whatever I get from my dogs!”

“He’s an old rogue and a torment, but I’ll miss his lovely flow of abuse. What a vocabulary!”

“You’ve got a bad case of what is delicately referred to as romance.”

“If I ever almost fall in love again, I hope it’s with someone as nice as you.”

I usually pick up a book by Dan Ross, here writing as Rose Dana (he also wrote nurse novels under the names Ruth Dorset, Rose Williams, and Ann Gilmer, as well as under his own name), with more than a little dread. I’ve reviewed seven of his books: five got a C or C-, and one each for B- and B+ (Arctic Nurse was the top scorer). But here, with Night Club Nurse, we have one of his best. It’s still just coming in with a B+, but I’ll take it.

Gwen Hale is actually one of the finer VNRN heroines I’ve come across—an independent go-getter who fights for what’s important to her and always wins. She works at a Manhattan hospital on the floor for rich patients, where she meets night club owner Louis Rapella and his son Tom. The pair convince Gwen to take a job at the Empress Club just above Times Square, working Friday and Saturday nights. She’s hoping to earn enough money to finance a trip to Europe, which is “one of those things I’d like to do on my own,” she tells her boyfriend, Dr. Jack Benson. Jack is initially shocked that Gwen is serious about taking this job: “You wouldn’t cheapen yourself by doing a thing like that,” he tells her, adding, “Cheapen me!” Which pretty much seals the deal for Gwen.

But the big surprise is that Jack does not turn out to be the usual VNRN boyfriend; instead of holding a grudge and making lots of nasty remarks for pages and pages, he quickly accepts Gwen’s decision: “I give in!” he tells her, and from then on is completely supportive. So I might forgive him for giving her “a playful slap on the cheek.” Her blossoming relationship with Tom Rapella, however, is another thing—that young man walks her home “arm in arm” after her first weekend, kisses her, and tells her, “I’ve been in love with you ever since I met you that day at the hospital.” For her part, Gwen acts a lot more smitten with him than she has with her fiancé, thinking, “She’d actually wanted him to say that he was in love with her,” and after they part, “she found herself lingering over the memory of Tom’s goodnight kiss. There would be no doubt in her mind if it were not for the others,” namely Jack and the club photographer, Gina Norel, a childhood friend of Tom’s who, though Gina has not let anything slip that might suggest as much, Gwen has decided is in love with Tom.

Now comes pages of debate about which man, which kind of love, she should choose: “Maybe her hours with Jack had been less romantic but they had been filled with good things; the solid understanding each other’s problems and each other.” Meanwhile, “Tom stirred her and gave her the feeling that life could be more exciting than she’s ever dreamed.” And lies to Jack about her dates with Tom: “It was all very casual and innocent,” she says of a dinner in which the pair discussed whether they should get married. Jack, for his part, is not falling for it. “Don’t play dumb,” he says. “I can stand anything but that coy dumbness you put on.” Here again Jack proves his worth—and his uniqueness in VNRNs—by not falling for a stupid lie and preferring an intelligent, honest woman to a fake stupid one.

While Gwen is batting her feelings and Jack’s around, she is also proving her value at the Empress Club when she saves a famous model who has passed out—Gwen astonishingly recognizes insulin shock and gives her Coke laced with sugar. After this brilliant diagnosis, it’s all the more shocking that she fails to recognize impending disaster with the aging cowboy Buck Gibson, who performs rope tricks as part of the evening show and complains of worsening headaches, increasing shortness of breath, and decreasing exercise tolerance. It’s not Gwen’s concern—“you should look after your health,” is all she suggests as he staggers off stage sweating alarmingly after his act—but an overdose of pain pills that gets Buck to the hospital. There Dr. Jack diagnoses him with coarctation of the aorta, but in truth Jack is failing Buck as badly as Gwen is—CoA is a congenital heart defect that narrows the aorta at its upper end, and Jack describes Buck’s condition as a tumor compressing the aorta at its other end in the pelvis. This little medical detail will matter little to most, but it does indicate sloppiness on the part of the writer—not really surprising, since we know this about Mr. Ross all too well from past books.

Of course it takes a big crisis in the end, when Gina trips and falls down the stairs, breaking her ankle and rupturing her spleen, to suddenly turn everyone’s affections in directions they had shown little inclination toward up until now, and Gwen tells Tom, “I’ve known all along that you couldn’t really part from Gina.” Curious that we readers were clued in to neither Tom’s feelings for Gina or Gwen’s near-psychic abilities. More curious is that after Tom tells Gwen that he loves Gina, he kisses Gwen on the lips, but “it lasted only a short moment,” so I guess that makes it all right.

Though he does better than usual, Mr. Ross cannot avoid his usual bag of writing tricks. He does enjoy descriptions of women’s bodies (though it’s not clear to me why he thinks his readers will) and here we get Gwen’s roommate wearing “a black-and-white polka dot housecoat over nothing much.” He also loves to pick out one woman in the book and refer to her constantly as “the dark girl”; here it’s Italian Gina who wins the dubious prize, though she only gets it five times. Poor nurse Molly Pearson, on the other hand, gets a new adjective, “buxom,” affixed to her name on seven different occasions. But I am nitpicking a little here, though, since these tics don’t ruin an otherwise decent book, and you can feel free to pick up Night Club Nurse with little of the usual aggravation that accompanies Dan Ross’s books.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jill Nolan, R.N.

Book 1 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1962
Cover illustration by Mort Engle

Young, dedicated, Jill Nolan was the private nurse, and the private property, of Dr. Vince Merrill, a glamorous society doctor. A Christmas vacation, a sudden blizzard, and a tragic accident combined to throw Jill into service in a mining town, and into the arms of young Alan Harper, M.D. There was a world of difference between Dr. Merrill’s plush city practice and Dr. Harper’s plain, hard-working mountain clinic. As a nurse, Jill Nolan belonged to both these worlds of medicine. As a woman, she could only belong to one man.


“She was thirtyish and pregnant and not happy about either state.”

“Never keep a man waiting, lest his ardor cool.”

Adeline McElfresh, having finished up the six-volume Dr. Jane series, apparently wasted no time before picking up her pen to begin another series, this one about Jill Nolan, R.N., as this inaugural volume was copyrighted just a year after Dr. Jane’s Choice, the last of six books about that good doctor. This book offers us a heroine who has a bit more maturity than Jane, and the same pleasant (and occasionally amusing) writing, so we’re off to a good start with Jill—and the fact that there are only four books in her series could be a plus, as it may keep her from becoming too dull.

At book’s open, she is engaged to a fairly commonplace VNRN character: the aspiring, successful, heartthrob doctor who cares more about his patients’ wallets than he does about their health. Jill has spent the past six months as his office nurse, a time in which she often felt her pulses thrill to his kiss but her mind fairly unengaged. Then, while dropping by the mountains of Kentucky in the dead of winter to visit her old nursing school chum Karen Hannah, she lands in the middle of a mining accident and immediately is pressed into duty. It’s more action than she’s had, well, since she started working for Vince Merrill, and she immediately finds the work immensely satisfying, even if the décor in Dr. Alan Harper’s office is a bit more frayed. As Karen’s husband is severely injured in the mining accident, and Karen is now needed at home to care for him, Jill agrees to stay on for a time until Karen can get back to work.

Needless to say, the job is busy and satisfying, and we spend a lot of time following Jill and Al around on their daily rounds, meeting upwards of 30 different locals with varying ailments. And listening to Jill’s ruminations about the differences between Vince and Al, which becomes increasingly wearing as time goes on. It’s a common device that the fiancé is actually a heel, but it’s not clear why an otherwise talented and sensible woman wouldn’t just break up with the louse once her ardor cools instead of trying to talk herself into love with a man she is constantly criticizing in her head. Though to Jill’s (partial) credit, she doesn’t try to convince herself that she really loves Vince, but this makes the reader wonder even more why she doesn’t give him the heave-ho.  And she never actually does, which is a puzzle—is any man, no matter how despicable, better than none? Is she just waiting for the next fella to come along before she feels she can actually say goodbye to the first one? Whether it’s laziness or scheming, neither characteristic is admirable.

Really, there’s just not much more to say about the plot, because it’s more than clear from the first word how it will end. In between, there’s some amusing dated chatter about the impending nuclear crisis, as Jill spends some time planning for how the local medical staff would respond to a major hit of radiation, either from the Russians or the atomic research facility 100 miles away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Author McElfresh does have a tendency to trot out some very ham-handed medical metaphors, such as, “Jill tied a firm mental ligature on the malaise,” and, “she and Karen had dissected their thoughts about nursing with keen thought-scalpels,” but these clinkers are infrequent enough to be forgiven. The ending is a bit confusing—it appears that Jill is actually out-of-the-blue in love with a third character!—which makes for a lot of head-scratching. But overall, even if it’s fairly conventional and straightforward, this is a good book as it stands. 

Jill Nolan, Surgical Nurse

Book 2 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1962
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

As a skilled, disciplined surgical nurse, Jill Nolan was well prepared to assist at critical operations. But, as a woman in love, could she forget that the man fighting for his life on the operating table was Tom Ratcliff, her attractive, wealthy fiancé?


“We can use a change of male scenery around this place.”

Jill Nolan is one of those fickle professionals who, having worked for years to put themselves through nursing school, is now ready to chuck it all when Tom Ratcliff slips that band of gold onto her finger. Early on in the book, her contented dream is to “be Mrs. Thomas Ratcliff, not Nurse Jill Ratcliff, with all the responsibilities that went with her new name.” What those responsibilities might be, why they’re more important than her responsibilities as a nurse, and why the author missed this awful dangling modifier, escape me.

Jill’s engagement comes as a bit of a surprise because at the close of Jill Nolan, R.N., she was smooching Dr. Al Harper on her way out the door of a relationship with fiancé Vince Merrill, while having “warm glowy” thoughts about another character altogether, and Tom Ratcliffe was not even a named character in that book (though the married Carl Ratliffe, who is not a character in this book, is). So how did she give three men in the first book the slip? Is there another Jill Nolan book hiding out there that my searches have not turned up? The head-scratching that we closed the first book of the series continues in the start of this, which is not a good omen.

Enter Dr. Donald Jonathan Gifford, a brilliant surgeon who has his pick of two top posts but chooses to take up at Bradburn Memorial Hospital in Seymour, Kentucky, where Jill and the scant roster of her fellow nurses and doctors overwork themselves. Now, after she’s decided that she likes Giff—and “the knowledge brought a warm, small glow deep inside”—she’s starting to feel a bit of “reluctance” at the idea of quitting her job, which pops up during a drive she takes with the doctor. Before long she’s chafing at the bit on every other page, quietly stewing over Tom’s resentment that her job takes up a lot of her time—and his hypocrisy when he runs off to fix some problem at work and leaves her cooling her heels, or when he’s upset that she doesn’t share his devotion to his chemical plant despite the fact that he can’t condone her devotion to nursing—and it gets downright tiresome. “Tom felt that, if nursing were such a challenging and satisfying profession, let it be a challenge and a satisfaction to someone else, as, after they were married, it would have to be.” “I don’t want to share you,” he tells her. “With you I’m second.” Then there’s the wavering, when after a long day at the hospital, she “obediently” makes a tour of the plastics factory with Tom even though she’s dog tired. “It was her duty, she had told herself sternly, many times before, for she would not be marrying just Tom Ratcliff. Whether she liked it or not, she would be marrying Ratcliff Plastics, Incorporated.” But the more time she spends with Giff, the more she begins to think that she might not feel for Tom “a love deep enough to compensate for giving up nursing to marry him […] the kind of love that she would need if she were to be happy with only Tom and not the nursing career she had dreamed of since childhood.”

All this back-and-forth between the two men is sandwiched between two crises at the plastics factory. Chapter One opens with a big fire at the plastics plant, and a number of men are wounded, including Tom. One of Jill’s many moments of panic comes when she is obliged to assist during the operation on his depressed skull fracture and hemorrhaging middle temporal artery. He pulls through, of course, thanks to Giff, but now we’re all in a dither about the fire: “If that fire had been set—! For heaven’s sake, who could hate Tom so much?” But it’s all a lot of, if you will, smoke and mirrors: After pages of hysterical italics, it turns out that the fire was set by the flip of a careless cigarette. However, we’ll be meeting the italics again: An oil tanker crashes at the plant and an unnamed worker is pinned. After 150 pages of complaining about Tom’s oppression, she’s freaking out: “Oh, God, please, not Tom, again!” If it is him, she decides, she’s not going to tell him that she doesn’t love him anymore! But he’s not hurt, and when Dr. Gifford goes crawling under the truck to get the trapped man, Tom forbids Jill from going in with Giff. From one extreme to the other: “Jill jerked free. ‘Don’t try to stop me!’ oh! Tom Ratcliff! How could I ever have thought I loved you?” She helps Giff patch up the severed subclavian artery, and now he’s the lucky recipient of her hysteria: “Giff, oh, Giff darling, be careful!” Bleah.

The writing in this book is pretty perfunctory. Ms. McElfresh likes to explain in great detail each surgery that Jill witnesses. While this could be interesting, if you don’t understand all the anatomy and surgical equipment, it passes over the reader’s head. In addition, she is unfortunately enamored with the idea of using medical jargon as descriptors in her writing, so we are treated to far too many gems such as, “a lancet of apprehension,” “half-anesthetized by a fresh burst of terror,” “Dr. Bradford’s terse nod ligated the swift-burgeoning fear.” The hysteria that populates this book reminded me somewhat of Marie Warren, Night Nurse, but without that book’s camp or very peculiar charms. This is the second book in the series, and it’s never a good sign when you’re not looking forward to hearing about Jill’s further adventures.

Jill Nolan’s Choice

Book 3 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1963

Why, Jill asked herself, had she left Bradburn Memorial Hospital to work in the wild and open backwoods country? Was it because she had felt unsure of her love for Giff? Had she hoped, during the year that she would be away from this operating table and his kisses, to test their love? And was that, she thought uneasily, the reason she could turn to Clay Ramsdell so easily—because she did not, truly and deeply, love Giff? Yes, Jill thought, absence makes the heart grow fonder … but of whom?


With this volume, we continue the times of Jill Nolan, RN, as she makes her way toward matrimony; after that point, we need no longer bother with her. In this book, Jill has decided to work at a Navajo clinic in northeastern Arizona for a year, working alongside Dr. John Gray Cloud. John was a friend of Jill’s fiancé’s when the boys were in medical school, and when he stopped in for a visit in Kentucky, where Jill and Giff live, love, and work, his tales of the beauty and hardship on the reservation tugged at Jill’s heart. So she packed her bags and set out for the Southwest for a year-long stint there.

Before she even arrives at the cinderblock clinic, she meets local rancher Clay Ramsdell, and assists a young Navajo woman who is losing a battle to deliver a breech baby. Jill wades right into her scrubs and the woman’s uterus, turning the baby and saving two lives with complete aplomb, and now she is known throughout the reservation as a nurse who has life-saving magic.

Most of the book follows Jill as she navigates Navajo lands, people, and language, and this is the rare VNRN about non-white people that treats them with honor and decency. The Navajo people we meet are poor, but they are largely dignified people facing the steep challenges of prejudice and poverty. Jill’s main struggles throughout the book are, unfortunately, less dignified: She can’t decide if she really loves Giff.

Jill’s decision to leave Kentucky for this year-long sabbatical is never really satisfactorily explained, as even she doesn’t seem to understand it. Now and then, intruding on an otherwise lovely story, are her never-answered musings on the subject, and the corollary, whether she should go home or stay in Arizona, where she is deeply needed and enjoying a very satisfying career—a decision she makes suddenly and without premeditation, much to my chagrin. She is just as uninsightful about her boyfriends: She often sternly reminds herself that she loves Giff, and then wonders in the next sentence why she is attracted to Clay, before she shoves away the entire topic and goes off to set somebody’s broken leg. (I did wish she would spend more of her time doing the latter and less of the former.) Her debate over her feelings about Clay is largely internal, as although he kisses her once, he never brings it up again, and the two just hang out in an essentially platonic relationship. Then, in the end, she makes an unstartling discovery out of the blue about whom she really loves, and the book comes to a disappointing and abrupt close. Now, I recognize that the entire premise of a VNRN is that the young lady is supposed to choose a fella by book’s end, but I’d like to feel that her choice is a sound one, and well thought out. Here her decision, given top billing in the book’s title, is mostly just the thing that came easiest. It’s the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise excellent book—but since Jill really spends little time at all thinking of her love life, this book is certainly worth reading, whether you’ve met her in the previous two volumes or not.

Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty

Book 4 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1966
Cover illustration by Victor Livoti

When Jill accompanied Carol Winston to Pinetop Farm, she knew her patient was in need of more than her medical skill. But Jill’s training had not taught her how to heal an almost broken marriage …


“I’m a whiz with a Toni.”

“Taffy was surprisingly chipper for someone whose dura had gushed blood the instant it was opened.”

“She was a nurse, not a teen who at long long last has been noticed by the school’s basketball hero.”

He sensed her hesitation as skillfully as, during surgery, he would have ferreted out a bit of malignant tissue that must be dissected.”

When I read a VNRN, I tuck an oversized index card into it and make notes as I read on particular passages or plot twists I want to revisit as I write my review. With Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty, however, my card is covered with accounting: the number of times Adeline McElfresh used one of her favorite compound adjectives, “deckle-edged” (two), the variations of people speaking insert adjective here–toned (written just like that, following the verb) (seven: deep, quiet, low, firm, sharp, soft, and warm), the number of times someone freaks out and screams, “Oh God!” (when it’s the nurse) or “Oh Christ!” (when it’s a man) (9 and 7, respectively), the number of times someone calls someone “darling” (too many to count, or five times in just the letter one character writes to her husband asking for a divorce) or any other endearment (zero)—and I haven’t even started discussing how often McElfresh’s prose plunges right off the cliff into the Valley of the Vapid (“sent wind fingers exploring through her hair”), or how Jill’s poor sternum really takes a beating (“an icy lancet scraped behind Jill’s sternum,” “renewed malaise nibbling behind her sternum,” “the icy lancet behind Jill’s breastbone had become a handful of scalpels, indiscriminately wielded”), or the long, boring medical descriptions (“the rate of the infusion had been greatly decreased from the rapid 100-drops-a-minute pace that at first had carried the glucose-sodium chloride-aqueous cortical extract-plasma-penicillin combination into the basilic vein in her right arm”). Really, this book was just too much for me to take.

If at this point you have any interest in hearing about the stupid plot, you are made of firmer stuff than me, but here’s the gist: Our heroine Jill Nolan, with whom we have already plodded with varying degrees of willingness through three other books, is here asked by her fiancé, Giff (Dr. Donald Jonathan Gifford to everyone else), to go with his childhood friend, Carol Cadwallader Winston, back to Carol’s hometown to nurse her through her treatment for Addison’s disease. Carol had wanted to be a pediatrician but had dropped out of medical school in her final year to marry Paul Winston, and we are reminded of this tragic personal sacrifice on virtually every page, as Carol is always embedded in a medical book or journal or mentioning how she had wanted to be a doctor or teaching the girl next door how to make medical tinctures to give her dolls. Paul is a historical romance novelist, if you can believe it, and is working on a horrifyingly long novel (he’s at chapter 23 at book’s open) with his pretty, dedicated, young secretary Susan Morrisey. Carol is convinced that Paul is having an affair with Susan, and actually so is Nurse Jill, after she hears Paul talking to Susan on the phone late one night, saying that everyone will be in bed by 9:00, which clearly indicates that he is “planning an assignation,” that bastard. Jill goes around telling everyone else of her suspicions, and constantly frets that Carol’s worry over the affair is going to send her into an Addisonian crisis that will kill her. No amount of time that Paul spends with Carol or his reasonable explanations for what the ladies paranoically see as suspicious behavior convince them otherwise—until page 123, when Jill suddenly makes a complete about-face and fervently argues with Carol that she’s wrong about Susan and Paul, and seems to believe it, too.

The two major twists in the plot are when ten-year-old Taffy falls off a horse and suffers a subdural hematoma, Nurse Jill of course being sent to the hospital to nurse her, and when Jill suddenly thinks she’s in love with Carol’s brother Michael, with whom she has exchanged about ten pages of brief conversation. As abrupt as her conversion to believing Paul is not in love with Susan, Jill’s devotion swerves erratically back to Giff, which sets up her “hungry” kiss with him in the last paragraph, and my nausea. There are some truly revolting love scenes, the final one almost causing me to heave violently on the morning train. It may be cruel of me, and feel free to skip ahead if you are weak of stomach, but here is just one alarming example: “His kiss had been gentle at first and then hungry, as their love had grown of late; Jill was poignantly conscious of its remembered warmth and yearning on her lips. Oh, how I am going to miss you, Giff, darling!” The married couple abruptly lurches back together in the end and sets sail for Bora Bora, but Carol's continued deep regret over giving up her career is never addressed, perhaps because we're supposed to think that if a woman has a man in her life she doesn't need anything else. 

Honestly, I think you might not find this book as horrible as I did, which I think is in no small part due to an overdose of McElfresh (I’ve read 11 of her books, though never graded her as badly as I did this time around; she had a B- average up until now). But after this, all I can say is Oh God! No, wait, I mean how I am not going to miss you, Jill Nolan, darling! No, just that I am going to have to take a long long vacation from Adeline McElfresh.