By Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1966
Hawaii had lured them all: Ron Tercotte, who ran from love and a brilliant medical career to a surfboard in Waikiki. Craig Barclay, aging rou, who was delighted to pick up the tab for an international surfing expedition if it would buy his son, and himself, self-respect. Laurie Davis, a beautiful, principled, and dedicated nurse ... As the aimless days passed, Laurie asked herself why she had ever joined the ranks of beach players. Was the fleeting hope of Ron’s love enough to compensate for the hospital, the patients, the nursing career that had given her life meaning?
“You know, Diane, I have a confession to make. I was finding it uncomfortable, sharing a room with someone who was either too rude, too snobbish, or too vapid to have anything to say to me. After hearing you tonight, I'll admit something else. I didn’t know when I was well off.”
I have to say that I was not optimistic about this book, despite its magnificent title, because the cover art does not even come close to maximizing its potential. And so I am reminded, yet again, never to judge a book by its cover.
Laurie is a nurse working as a scrub, passing instruments in the OR. She is dating Ron, a medical student who in the opening scene is revealed as a surfer of widespread fame, the subject of magazine articles and movies. Ron is ambivalent about medicine, which he finds less thrilling than catching a wave. “Just don’t try to compare excising some character’s gall bladder with a perfect day at Malibu,” he tells her.
Linc, who is a producer of surfing movies, is leading the eponymous surf safari to Hawaii and Australia for three months to make another film, and is recruiting top-notch surfers for the trip. Ron, of course, is invited, and he drops out of med school to go, to Laurie’s dismay; she and Ron break up over it. She and Linc become friends, however, and he invites her to go on the safari as their nurse. She accepts, and off they go. The entourage includes the surfers; Eddy Barclay, Linc’s sycophant go-fer who is the subject of continuous degradation by everyone else except Laurie; and Eddy’s parents, an ex-showgirl and an alcoholic would-be playboy, who are financing the expedition. The plot follows the onshore antics of this group, focusing particularly on the surfers’ mistreatment of Eddy. Near the end, in a hilariously stereotypical crisis, Laurie and Ron’s medical skills are put to use, bringing Ron back to medicine (as you knew something would). It is punctuated by a paragraph in which someone is unexpectedly punched out, which made me sit up in my chair.
The book offers a great depiction of the lifestyle of the California surfer circa 1966, from the “woodie” (an old wood-paneled relic of a station wagon that had been preserved in pristine condition) that Ron drives, the descriptions of surfing (“plunging downward and to his left, Ron raced with the curling wave, his bronzed body outlined sharply against a wall of green water and feathery white spray”), the surfing vocabulary “when you’ve gone over the falls backward on a twenty-foot giant at Sunset, or it closes out suddenly and you’re caught in that wild soup, or you get wiped out”), and the general slang (“a ho-dad rockout,” “you look groovy,” “the bit’s worn out, you cats. Cool it,” “I’m stoked out of my mind!”, “looks boss”).
Great descriptions really let you feel the scene: “The voice was followed into the room by its owner, a still-handsome, fortyish woman whose gleaming black hair had been tortured into an intricate, high-standing coiffure and lacquered into place. She had the svelte figure of a magazine model, and it was enhanced by a Spanish-styled lounging costume that would have done credit to the flashiest of matadors; the slim black trousers were tighter than any Laurie had seen on the younger set downstairs, and the red velvet jacket looked as though the woman hadn’t put it on but had been dipped into it.”
Architecture is as vividly described: “Eddy Barclay’s home was as lavish as he was simple. A two-storied, mammoth structure of glass and what appeared to be volcanic rock, it was cantilevered on heavy steel beams from the ledge of a steep hillside, facing west. By daylight, the transparent walls probably afforded a breathtaking view of the Pacific. The ultra-modern structure barely touched the ground, except where the curving driveway swept up to its several entrances.”
The book’s spot-on humor also helps turn the pages: “… she would address Diane first only under emergency situations. If she noticed that Diane’s hair was on fire, or if Maana Loa blew itself to bits and hot lava threatened the room, she might casually mention the fact to Diane…”
There is even some actual medicine in the book, including an emergency splenectomy in which Laurie, distressed by Ron’s dropping out of medical school, is not at her best: “I said I wanted a long right angle clamp. Stat!” the surgeon shouts at her.
This book is worth reading even if you are not an aficionado of the genre. It is lively, humorous, and clearly shows the reader another time and place. The love story is a little incidental to the main plot, but if the story is interesting and well-written, who cares? This is a great read, and after this, I will be on the lookout for other Jane Converse titles.