Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nurse Hilary

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1958
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi

Doctor Stuart Marsden was too busy for love … until Hilary Westbrook, R.N. joined him in his uphill fight to better conditions for all the oldsters in the community. Then Doctor Marsden realized his efficient assistant was also a woman—and a lovely one!


“I wasn’t asking a question, Doctor, not of you. I wouldn’t dare, because you’re a doctor.”

“She distrusted men who were spectacularly good-looking.”

“From now on, nobody yells at me but you.”

Some books I look forward to reviewing. For others, I barely know what there is to say. Nurse Hilary has been hired to work at what is essentially a hoity-toity assisted living facility. No one’s really sick at all; their “ills” come from loneliness, shyness, or nastiness. Nurse Hilary spends her time swooning over Dr. Stuart Marsden, who is a gerontologist and uses the facility to do his “research” into old people. What exactly he’s researching—do they prefer green Jell-O to red?—is never made clear, but apparently watching healthy old people play bingo and crochet is going to advance the field enormously. He’s got a bee in his bonnet, however, about an unused ward in the building. He feels this should be used for older people with actual health problems who can’t afford to pay the high cost of residence at the Senior Citizens Retirement Club. The SCRC administrator has a different opinion, of course; he feels that the underprivileged would bring down the tone of his swanky establishment. So they are at a bit of a stalemate over that one.

Enter Nurse Hilary, who goes manor a mano with the administrator shortly after hearing about the hunky doctor’s yen for the empty wards, and is tossed out of his office before she can finish her sentence. But she’s safely established herself as a feisty gal who will go to the mat for a cause she believes in, and boosted the good doctor’s opinion of her, so the endeavor wasn’t a total loss. Now there’s just a lot of pining—and even pitching petulant fits—until he starts to notice her, and tells her, “I love you—I think.” She smiles to herself, because “she was a little dazzled by the prospect of what the future must hold for them.” I’ve said it before, but honestly, if couples in the 1960s got married on as little a foundation as all the VNRN heroines, it’s a small wonder that the divorce rate is so high.

The only other things that happen in this book is that Hilary wrangles with the facility’s resident witch, Kate Keenan. The crone demands that either Hilary goes or she goes, and the entire population of geezers rises up, with help from their walkers, and tells “the Duchess” to hit the road. Hilary intervenes by seeking out Mrs. Keenan, working her miraculous healing powers on the woman’s shriveled soul, and transforming her overnight into a generous, gracious woman who will publicly apologize for insulting another resident and throw her a tea party to boot.

The only point in the book worth noticing is the curious attitude about two of the seniors who decide to get married. Shy Mrs. Lily-Mae Barton is starving in her room after her arrival because no one told her to come downstairs for dinner. Hilary saves the little mouse from a slow, unpleasant death by cluing her in to the location of the dining room, and as she steers Mrs. Barton in to lunch, she decides to kill two birds with one meal and plops Mrs. Barton down at a table with Jason Hodding, a lonely retired executive who always eats by himself. Love blossoms, and soon Lily-Mae blurts out in the dining room that Jason has proposed. Gales of laughter ensue, and even Hilary—who can tell Mrs. Keenan at her venom-spewing worst, “I want to be friends, because I like you”—can’t be completely happy for the couple: “Once, she might have thought there was something ridiculous in the love between two people in their seventies; not funny, not amusing, but faintly absurd. Mrs. Barton was sixty-nine, her chart showed; Mr. Hodding was seventy-three. Yet there has been a look in his eyes, as he had watched her, a tone in his voice when he had spoken to her, that people expected to see and to hear in the voices and eyes of youngsters. It was, Hilary thought, deeply touching—and more than a little sad.”

This geriatric romance is so shocking that the facility’s receptionist, who clearly thinks little of ethics or her paycheck, drops a dime to the local newspaper. Mrs. Barton’s family comes across the expose in the morning edition and goes ballistic: “The children are all just furious with me and so shocked to find I’d make such a fool of myself—and that I’d held the whole family up to ridicule—and they’re driving up to take me home!” quivers Mrs. Barton to Hilary. “Jill thinks it’s disgusting for us to want to get married at our age. She says that when she gets her hands on me, she’s going to paddle me good!” (Mrs. Keenan, who has by this time abandoned the dark side, quips, “That doesn’t sound as if they think you’re too old to get married; it sounds as if they think you’re too young!”) I can only surmise that the horror everyone seems to feel about this union stems from the unstated fact that, once safely inside the bonds of holy matrimony, these old people will probably be having sex!!! How disgusting!!!

This curiosity is clearly an accident of changing social mores, not any real talent on the part of the writer. Indeed, Ms. Gaddis had displayed little skill at all in penning this smidgen; reading it you may feel half asleep, as she apparently was when wrote it. She is capable of much better (and, it must be admitted, much worse), so I’ll overlook this little disappointment and move on.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Small Town Nurse

By Harriet Kathryn Myers, ©1962

When the strain and pressure of huge Memorial Hospital proved too great for Ann Wellington, R.N., she was advised to take a tour of duty in a small, peaceful community. At first sight, Beverly Beach seemed like the right place, but her hope was shattered the moment Ann became nurse with the Bronston family—crippled Emily who lived on broken dreams of the past; cruel Hester, who cursed love and all who loved; and strong, handsome Bruce, the young intern who hated nurses.


“If it had been possible for an old hellion like me to sire a daughter, I would have liked her to look like you, Ann, so that when I came home nights tired, I could just look at you and be refreshed. So when the world’s ugliness became too much for me, I could look at your fresh cleanliness and be recreated.”

“The first thing you should do is relax. A pretty young girl like you should never get so tense. It makes a line between your brows, an indentation.”

“A girl as pretty as you should be helpless. She shouldn’t ever have to do anything for herself—growing up as pretty and clean looking as you is enough for anybody.”

“I thought your dad was riding herd on you these days, dressing you like a young lady.”

Ann Wellington has just completed her training at a large hospital, but finds that her ideals are being mercilessly crushed by the cynicism of the nurses and doctors she works with. She’s worn down and worn out, and she is so lost that she’s considering quitting nursing, before she’s barely even started her career! Then kindly Dr. Sage Millburn—who clearly deserves his given name—calls her to her office to tell her that she is suffering from “medical neurosis,” make her an offer so startling, that “Ann sank back in her chair as if stunned. For a moment the doctor seemed to wheel and skid, changing places with the overstacked book shelves, the windows, the fading sunlight.” Has he suggested she kill herself? Become a prostitute? No! She shouldn’t work in the hospital any more! She should take a job in private duty, working for an old friend of his in Florida who is fighting a fatal illness! It’s a shocking, novel proposal, but tough times call for desperate measures, as after all, “Ann was fighting for her very existance.” Apparently she’s quite a fragile flower, and with a constitution this delicate, it’s a miracle she made it past the first bed pan.

So she quits the hospital, packs up her belongings, and hops a plane for Beverly Beach. She’s so entranced by the palm trees that she tells the cabbie to pull over and walks the rest of the way to the old doctor’s house. “You’ve found your home, Ann,” she tells herself. But when she gets to the doctor’s house, she finds he’s been taken to the hospital and won’t be expected to live much longer, so she doesn’t have a job after all. She heads dejectedly back to the airport, but is in such a daze that she tries to go in the automatic out door, which opens before her and traps her foot underneath it. A handsome porter springs to her rescue, expertly binding her foot, and it’s suddenly like they’ve known each other for years.

But then he starts mouthing off about the type of women he doesn’t like: nurses. “They talk smart. They know more after three years of study than a medic knows after eight.” It turns out he’s an intern at Beverly Memorial Hospital, moonlighting as a porter because “I have this horrible nervous habit—I like to eat.” So it’s a good thing nurses are so horrible, because then he won’t want to date one, and he can keep his money for himself. “So I guess I should be grateful to nurses for being such personal creeps,” he concludes. “They’re all so hard. All of them competing for the unmarried doctors. Some of them even after the married doctors.” Then the penny drops, and he asks Ann if she wants to see him throw himself head first off the air tower for his stupid remarks. Ann tells him, “I’ll just accept your word that you’ll do it.”

Naturally, on the next page, they’re having dinner together—nevermind that he’s supposed to be working, and poor. She unburdens herself about her situation, and guess what? He’s got a sickly cousin, Emily, who is between nurses! Emily is a poor little thing—well, actually, an insanely rich little thing—who fell in love with a boy at the age of 17. When her father found out about it, he had the boy beaten within an inch of his life and run out of town. Emily was so upset about this that she drove her car off the road, and now she is paralyzed and in constant pain. Her “caretaker”—and we use the word loosely for the nasty shrew auditioning for Bette Davis’ role in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—is cousin Hester, who raised Bruce from the day his parents were killed when he was a young boy. She excoriates him with helpful suggestions like how he’s going to turn into a drunk like his father and how he can’t decide on a specialy because he’s afraid. She tears up checks Emily writes for him and keeps Emily locked away in a room with windows that don’t open. She’s a psychotic piece of work, and almost an interesting character, but she has no real power at all to make her interesting; the curiosity of this book is why everyone lets this horrible woman, who is completely dependent on Emily for a home and financial support, continue in her reign of terror for so long.

So when Ann moves in, suddenly things start to change. Ann opens the windows, insists on giving Emily pain medication when she has a seizure, and has a wooden walkway built down to the ocean so Emily look at the waves and wonder where her sailor boyfriend is today. Hester is looking more and more like she’s swallowed a box of tacks, but for the first time no one pays her any mind. We find Bruce and Ann walking on the beach together one day, and we learn that they are all but engaged. It’s a new twist in VNRNs to play what is usually the climactic scene offstage, and halfway through the book to boot. I have to say it doesn’t work too well, but I guess you have to give Ms. Myers some props for trying something new.

Without a couple to affiance, the story turns elsewhere for something to do, so it has sad, lost Emily, who seemed to be just starting to wake up to the possibilities of a better life, die of an overdose of her narcotic pain medication. Naturally Hester starts screaming that it’s Ann who is responsible, and there’s a trial, and it comes out that Ann was sent to Beverly Beach because she’s got this “medical neurosis” thing, which means she’s just a butterfly net away from the loony bin, so let’s burn the witch!

There is no justice in this book. Ann gets off, of course, and Emily has left her a tidy sum due to the fact that Bruce had told Emily that he was going to marry Ann. Bruce also gets a huge chunk to underwrite his fancy new clinic. But Hester—who had buried Emily’s suicide note and been Ann’s chief accusor—gets a large amount of money as well, and the house by the beach to live in, when it seems to me that criminal charges ought to be filed. The other oddity of this book is that it reads something like a sermon, as about every few pages the characters are getting all shiny-faced and beatific, fervently, and seriously, thanking God for getting Ann’s foot stuck under that airport door so she was able to meet Bruce, who prays, “This is what God in His goodness must have had in mind for me all along!” (For her fire-and-brimstone part, Hester uses God to explain why she withholds Emily’s pain medication, because in crashing her car, Emily broke her father’s heart, and “God’s making her pay for it with a life of pain.”)

This book has a few small surprises, like the star witness who upends Hester’s case against Ann, and the whereabouts of Emily’s long-lost boyfriend. It is stunning how truly cruel Hester is, but there’s no thrill in it; I keep thinking of how fabulous and exciting Florence Stonebraker’s baddies are, and how so very far apart they are from Hester. Maybe because her victim is truly helpless, or because there is absolutely no reason why Hester is allowed to be in a position to torture poor Emily, Hester is just disturbing. But this book does not give you satisfaction in any of its plot lines, so it’s best you just leave this one on the shelf.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

West Coast Nurse

By Della Field
(pseud. Fanny Quincy Howe), ©1963
Cover illustration by Bill Johnson

Ellen Mallory thought being on the Vista Shane staff was absolutely perfect. The small private hospital had excellent facilities and allowed nurses substantial time with each patient. But the arrival of Dr. David Chase posed a threat to Ellen’s emotionally disciplined way of life. The tension she felt in his presence disturbed her. It wasn’t fear. Or dislike. It was—and the realization stunned her—a very strong romantic attraction. She wanted to run—but where? Away from Vista Shane? From San Francisco? Or right into David Chase’s arms!


“Who wants a man in his hour of need?”

“It’s this career business that does it. As soon as a woman takes a full-time job, she ignores all her other responsibilities!”

“Nursing was the one career in which a woman could preserve her femininity.”

“Maybe we should send her to a psychiatrist. It’s the thing to do these days, you know.”

“She hated self-pity but could not help wishing that she had a man to cook for and prepare herself for.”

“He and I are opposed on certain things. He respects the uniform and not the woman underneath it, and I, as you so well know, hate the uniform but love what’s underneath.”

“Your crisp white uniform makes me nervous, you know.”

“People should gulp wine as if it was water. It’s good for the soul. I think I’ll begin to prescribe it as pre-operative sedative.”

“If you want to be sort of a masculine type, then go ahead. Get a job, make money to buy clothes for your own reflection in the mirror.”

Ellen Mallory and her sister Katie live in a San Francisco apartment, on a hill in an Italian neighborhood with views of Marin Count. This probably puts them on Telegraph Hill, or maybe Russian Hill (and this is an important detail because I used to live on Telegraph Hill). Ellen works at a hospital 20 miles south of the city—maybe in San Mateo?—where she takes on a patient named Emilio Rafaeli, a very wealthy and prominent attorney in his late 60s who has stomach cancer. He’s crotchety and demanding, but in about two minutes she has him wrapped around her finger, and soon she adores him as well.

The Mallory sisters are orphans—their parents were killed in a plane crash four years ago—and though Ellen was already in nursing school when the tragedy occurred and so has her career to keep her anchored, Katie is drifting. She’s refusing to go to college, which is important to her future because “you simply must if you’re to find the right sort of man,” as her aunt tells her, adding, “One of the all-important things in marriage is equality. The woman just has to keep up with the man.” In her rebellion, Katie is hanging out with a boy named Toad and “a group of students who raced around on motorcycles, drank continually, and lived in rotten warehouses in the city. They all protested every form of conventional behavior, ascribing their own to terror of the atom bomb.” Ellen is naturally concerned about her sister, and so introduces her to Dr. Stephen Hull, a former boyfriend and now good friend. Naturally it’s love at first sight—but Katie’s not going to be pinned down so easily. In a last revolt against committing herself, she goes out partying with Toad and his pals, who are doing peyote. She refuses to take the drugs, but when the police swarm in, her beloved Toad slips the buttons into her pocket and she’s hauled off to jail on drug charges. When Ellen and Stephen show up to bail her out, a police officer is shouting the Katie has tried to slash her wrists with a nail file, so now instead of a prison cell, it’s a hospital bed she’s occupying.

Ellen, clearly, has a lot on her plate. To make matters worse, there’s this guy at the hospital, Dr. David Chase. From the first day they meet, “she dreaded working with him, dreaded his aloof manner, and she disliked him for treating her like a maid.” He’s a dark, brooding type, and it doesn’t help that she’s a cool efficient machine at work, even if she does go all to pieces when she gets behind her closed bedroom door. Whenever they’re in the same room, the sparks are flying, whether from anger or—could it be?—passion, it’s just so hard to tell how you feel about a guy, right? Until that moment when suddenly she “realized with a shock that she was in love with him.” Did anyone see that coming?

Unfortunately, Ellen is too constrained, and David is too restrained, and every time they meet it’s to say goodbye. He resigns from the hospital, so she stops running into him at the hospital. Then he shows up at a charity ball to see her, and after kissing her heartily, they glare at each other and he stomps off into the sunset. She thinks he’s gone to New York, but really he’s in Big Sur, and when they’re to be at the same dinner party, he sends her a letter telling her that his first thought was to back out of the party, but that’s too childish, so they will meet again, and could she please refrain from the intense sarcasm they’ve exchanged in previous encounters? Before she has the chance to compose a suitably caustic response, her patient suffers a relapse, and the only doctor available is Dr. Chase. He is “coolly efficient” and refuses to look at her—until he takes her in his arms and the book abruptly ends.

West Coast Nurse is an unusual, brooding book, different from the usual VNRN. Ellen is miserable in her life and in her inability to take chances. She loves David and suffers intensely from her inability to connect, both with him and the people around her. But despite numerous declarations that she’s really going to change this time, she still can’t bring herself to tell him how she feels. Even misguided Katie sees how stunted Ellen is, repeatedly advising her to talk to David: “Where’s the fight in you? You’re never going to get what you want unless you make the effort.” (Katie herself, after her trip to the hospital, has learned this lesson and traded in Toad for her prince, Stephen.) I was disappointed that the apparent reconciliation between Ellen and David, though it’s essentially played offstage, did not come about through any real growth in Ellen’s character: She’s still the emotionally timid person she was on the first page, and I’m not overly confident that this rapprochement is going to lead to a happy marriage, since David doesn’t seem to have changed any more than she has.

Another curiosity of the book is its double standard regarding working women. Stephen is insisting that Katie not work once they are married, and she actually breaks off their relationship over this point. He is the one who bends in the end, but Katie has no job and only sketchy plans to become a nurse; when she herself is in the hospital she tells Ellen and Stephen, “I hate this place. I can’t see how either of you can stand it.” When Ellen asks Katie if she’d rather live in the country with Stephen or in the city with a job and without Stephen, Katie without hesitation chooses Stephen and no job—and then after Stephen has given in to her, Katie tells Ellen that she and Stephen have decided to live in the country after they’re married, implying that she will not be working after all.

Stephen tells Katie, “Look at Ellen. Do you think she’s any better off for being a career woman? Is it making her happy?” But it’s not her job that makes Ellen unhappy; indeed, her close relationship with her patient is about the only thing that keeps her getting out of bed in the morning. (Katie actually calls Stephen on this, responding, “If anything, it’s men like you and David Chase that make her unhappy.”) Not to mention the fact that if it weren’t for her job, she and Katie would be indigent. So the choice between career and husband is not as simple as Stephen would have you believe.

This book is thoughtful, and the author clearly understands Ellen profoundly. It’s psychologically sophisticated; when most VNRNs will drop words like neurosis and mania as if they’re going out of style (oh, wait…), West Coast Nurse describes Ellen’s insecurities in a way that feels deeply true. I was fascinated to discover that the author of this book, Fanny Howe, is an important experimental poet who in 2009 received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which is given to a living American poet whose “lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition.” This book, and her only other VNRN that I can find (Vietnam Nurse), were written when Howe was 23 and 26, respectively, years before her first collection of poetry was published in 1970. (Curiously, this book was published the same year she ended her marriage to Frederick Delafield (1963); her married surname clearly served as the foundation for her pen name.) So the fact that the book is well-written is not surprising, and I feel strangely proud to know that Ms. Howe went on to bigger and better things after leaving us with this remarkable little work.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nurse Todd’s Strange Summer

By Zillah K. Macdonald and Vivian J. Ahl
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Nurse Ann Todd, on a special duty assignment on the misty coast of Maine, found two men … and a mystery. There was Quint Towne, who made her pulse thump though her heart said no … And there was Dr. Bruce McNab, brilliant and lonely, shunned by the people who needed him most, blamed for some strange tragedy no one would name. As Ann struggled in the web of hate and suspicion that enmeshed the town, the tension around her tightened its grip on her heart. Then, on the terrifying, gale-lashed waves of Jericho Bay, Ann found the answer to the mystery of Dr. McNab … and the key to her own future.


“He had neither flinched nor groaned. Like his state of Maine, there was granite in him.”

“He’s a kind of measles that gets every girl who runs into him.”

“Nurses are so bossy, you know.”

“She was not blind to the value of a married-woman status in her field. There was always the idea that unmarried women didn’t know the essentials of life.”

Nurse Todd’s summer, despite what you may have heard, wasn’t that strange. Ann Todd left her job at a hospital in New York to work in Maine as a private nurse to Quint Towne, a wealthy gadabout whom she had nursed after he injured his back when he fell from a horse in Central Park. She’s fallen in love with him, and is looking forward to spending the summer assisting him through his rehab. But when she arrives in his summer hometown off Jericho Bay (which is just southwest of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, if you care to know), she is met by a postcard from Quint’s mother and constant companion, Jane, who informs her that they are in Florida and will not arrive in Maine for four more weeks.

Fortunately, the town has a doctor, Bruce McNab. Soon she is working for him, drawing blood, visiting patients around town, and helping during office hours. But she discovers that the town harbors a grudge against Dr. McNab, and most of the citizens prefer to drive to a town 20 miles away for their healthcare. She thinks this has something to do with her landlady, Lett, a talented pianist who suffered a broken wrist two years ago. Lett’s hand became paralyzed after the accident, and Lett’s career was ruined. The town believes Dr. McNab, who at the time was working as an intern under the town’s previous doctor, bungled the job, and still hasn’t forgiven him. Ann is determined to save Dr. McNab’s reputation, so she sneaks a look into the doctor’s files, but the first page of Lett’s chart is missing, and she can’t find out for sure what happened. Then she tries a little physical therapy on Lett, though Lett’s sister Parthie is dead set against it. (And get used to these names; everyone in Maine is named something like Keziah, Ephraim, Llewellyn, and Lucius, perhaps because it’s such a quaint place.)

Four weeks fly by, and Quint is back and doing splendidly, so Jane tells Ann they won’t be needing her services after all. Quint starts dating her, but he’s also seeing the local artist, Mallie, sometimes back-to-back on the same night, the cad. Soon summer rolls into fall, and Ann isn’t making much headway in her campaign on Dr. McNab’s behalf. Then a huge nor’easter blows up, and wouldn’t you just know it, a young woman living out on Hen Island has come down with appendicitis. She and Dr. McNab pack up their supplies and run through the storm to save the woman’s life with an appendectomy on the kitchen table, and suddenly she’s thinking that going back to New York is going to be really difficult, because “this was the life she would have chosen.” After watching her quiver with alarm prior to the operation—“She dreaded the storm, and she was afraid of another fear, one that came unbidden and of which she was ashamed, fear of gossip if he failed! His failure would reflect on her, too; she must face that because of her association with him!”—I’m a little perplexed by this sudden transformation. 

Safely back on the mainland, Ann is met on the docks by Quint, who smooches her heartily and asks her to marry him. She briefly considers the proposal, despite having declared, just eight pages earlier, that “she was through with Quint.” The truth it that she’s falling for Dr. McNab, but since he has been spending a lot of time with Mallie, she thinks she might as well marry Quint, since “life had to be lived.” But she quickly snaps out of it and turns him down—and on their way off the dock they pass the doctor, who doesn’t even wave, to Ann’s great disappointment. He is decidedly cool after that, and spending more time than ever with Mallie, but Ann cannot connect the dots. Further evidence of her lack of sense is provided the next day at Dr. McNab’s office: A young patient bouncing on an antique sofa finds a crumpled chart in a hole in the upholstery that was pointed out to us with much fanfare 40 pages ago. Oblivious Ann takes the chart without looking at it and stuffs it into the pocket of her uniform. That night she finally reads it, realizes that is plainly shows that the previous doctor was the one who mishandled Lett’s fracture, and tucks it into the Book of Devotions that she sanctimoniously keeps on her bedside table, planning to wave it around town tomorrow to trumpet Dr. McNab’s innocence.

But then she wakes in the middle of the night by someone creeping into her room—it’s Parthie, looking quite mad and nervously twisting a scarf. She wants that chart! Ann thinks about how valuable the chart is, and how much she loves the doctor—and then promptly gives the game away by reaching for the book. Parthie gets there first, grabs the chart, and burns it to ashes. Her mission accomplished, she completely goes to pieces and confesses all: She’d done the old doctor’s books for him for years and had fallen in love with him, though he was married and had no interest in her. She had known that it was he who had botched her sister’s case, but she wanted to protect the old doctor, so she stole the chart, stuffed it into the sofa, and spread the rumor around town that Dr. McNab was responsible for the malpractice. Ann again tells Parthie that a little PT will have Lett banging out sonatas in no time flat, and this time Parthie agrees to allow Ann and Dr. McNab to treat Lett’s arm. And once she’s healed, Dr. McNab’s reputation will be saved!

All that is irrelevant, though, because in the morning, Dr. McNab gets a letter from one of the town’s leading citizens, who likes to vacation on Hen Island. He has been so impressed with Dr. McNab’s treatment of the woman with appendicitis, who is a dear friend of his, that he has invited Dr. McNab to serve on the local hospital medical board, thereby anointing him as a worthy medico. Then it’s just a few short sentences to engage Quint and Mallie, and drop Ann into the good doctor’s arms, and it’s all over.

And none too soon. Ann starts out well enough, but once Quint comes back to town, she transforms into one of the more immature heroines I’ve met. After she’s released from her job nursing Quint, she can’t bring herself to actually ask Dr. McNab to keep her on, just telling him that she’s going to have to go back to New York and, when he accepts the news with aplomb, she becomes angry that he doesn’t tell her he wants her to stay, when she can’t tell him that she wants to. She’s angry with Quint because he doesn’t take her to meet his socialite friends when they go out on dates, and decides she wants to stop seeing him. But before she can tell him this, he stops coming around: “Ann had wanted to break away from him and it had happened, but she knew now she had wanted the break to be on her own terms. She missed him.” He tells her he can’t see her because his mother doesn’t like it, and she controls his income. “Then why not get a job? she almost stormed, then remembered he was not in any condition to do that.” And her thoughts are much too frequently punctuated with exclamation points! “Ann knew both triumph and fear! Triumph that his diagnosis had been confirmed. Fear that they might be too late!” “And then, at five o’clock, the telephone did ring!” “Her courage zoomed up! They must not fail!”

The writing is otherwise bearable, but chapters are given titles, the first time I have seen this in a VNRN, and this offers an opportunity for a chuckle at chapter 15, named “Ann Shares a Fateful Moment with ‘B.M.’ ” (I’m trying to imagine that how that scene plays out.) One superlative feature of this book is its extremely descriptive depictions of medicine. We watch Ann make a bed with the patient in it, pack a mobile OR and set it up, and assist in an appendectomy, and these scenes are among the most realistic and detailed I’ve encountered in a VNRN. But apart from this, and the armchair-travel thrill of hearing mention of places you know of (if you know of Maine), you’re better off allowing Nurse Todd to navigate the northeast without you.