Monday, December 31, 2012

Lady Doctor

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1963
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti
Lady doctor—young girl in love—each describes a different kind of woman. Yet each applied to lovely, dark-haired Dr. Billie Whitcomb, who fell in love with a handsome neighbor with an adorable son and a wife who was strangely missing. Billie suddenly must face a girl’s most agonizing decision: What kind of woman was she going to be?
“The fact you’re an attractive female in no manner detracts from your capabilities.”
“Most men like to beat women at games, not because of a lack of chivalry, but because, as Red claimed, women had come to equal men on so many planes that about all there was left for men to excel in was such trivial competition. Red insisted that women now ruled the universe.”
Dr. Billie Whitcomb is a general practitioner in Tennessee, working alongside Dr. Stuart “Red” Foster. She spends a lot of time with Red, letting him drive her home every night and buy her coffee, though for her it seems to be more of a relationship of convenience rather than true affection. But he admires her as a doctor as well as a person, telling her, “You’re a big girl now—with the right to make your own decisions in your personal life, as well as your professional one.” And she respects him as well: “Red could always make her feel better. It was more than kindness; it was the ability to see the other person’s side of a question, to know how the other person felt, what made him act as he did, even when wrong. And this quality was what would make Dr. Stuart Foster not just an ordinary doctor, but a truly great one someday.”
At the same time, though, he’s always telling her that she has a tendency to follow her heart more than her head—which he bases solely on the fact that she has two X chromosomes—and that this limits her in her profession. “You’ve got to harden that feminine heart of yours in order to get ahead in a man’s field,” he says, and then paradoxically adds, “You should be back in the children’s ward because you are a woman, with a woman’s compassion and love for children.” Also, their dating seems to be curiously contingent entirely on his ability to pay for everything, despite the fact that she is obviously earning a decent salary. “You know that Red can’t afford to take me out often, certainly not for dinner,” she tells her mother, who “hopes that her daughter might do better than to struggle along with a young doctor until he became established.” Does her income count for nothing?
It’s not just with her boyfriend that she is subject—surprise, surprise—to stereotypes. She works with an elderly doctor, Dr. Barnes, whom nobody really likes. He expects her to consult with him before administering any treatment or diagnosis, which she resists—she feels she’s supposed to be working with him, not under him. So she thinks nothing of it when she gives old Mr. Brenner, who is not expected to live after a third heart attack, an injection to help him sleep. The next day she finds he has died overnight, and Dr. Barnes is calling her before the board and accusing her of a mercy killing. She is quickly exonerated by the board, but not content with these back-door dealings, she stops Dr. Barnes in the hallway and defends her need to make autonomous decisions about patients. She adds that she finds it a privilege to work with the experienced physician but she will not be his lackey, and if he cannot work with her as a partner, he should replace her with another doctor. To her surprise, he says he would like to continue with her. “I want you to rely upon your own judgment. Only by doing that can any doctor become a good one. And I guess being a woman has little to do with that,” he graciously allows. “I’ll try to remember that there are some things to be said on the side of youth—and I don’t hold it against you for being a woman.” From this moment on, Billie is Old Barnsides’ number-one fan.
Back at home, single man Grant Shelton and his young son Jerry move in next door. Grant’s wife, Cynthia, has abandoned the family after Grant told her she would no longer be allowed to spend any time on her profession as a violinist. (Why is it always music that these wives leave their families for?) “Cynthia got it into her head that she wanted to resume her career,” Grant tells her with disgust. Billie tells him of a friend who was a brilliant pianist who gave it up after the children came, only to find that “it was like having lost a right arm—a loss that, in spite of compensations, never could completely heal.” Grant cannot even begin to comprehend this, and Billie thinks, “He must be the kind of man who, having won a wife, believed he also had obtained the right to possess her. Not realizing that possessiveness more often destroys than strengthens love.”
Then Red starts getting a little possessive too, pouting for the rest of the night when, on an evening out, Billie has one dance with Grant. “If that guy—any guy—ever takes you away from me, baby, he’ll have to answer to me for it,” he grumps before taking her home early. Grant becomes even creepier, telling Billie, “Don’t ever let me down—destroy that faith again. Remember that, Billie.” Then he gets angry when an old friend of Cynthia’s suggests trying to track her down, and furious that Billie took a short cut through his back yard and discovered that he’d completely dug up the old rose garden back there, when those roses had been the absolute pride of the house’s previous occupants. He even has Billie wear Cynthia’s old head scarf on a drive in his convertible, which she dons with little thought, a common affliction with her.
Naturally, she is immediately attracted to Grant, far more than she’d ever been for Red. She decides that love “should be something to set one on fire. She had not thought of it that way until the discovery that just the touch of a man’s hands could start the blood coursing madly through her veins.” Poor Red suffers by comparison, in the death by a thousand cuts: “Had she picked it out, he wouldn’t have worn the rather loud striped tie, and she couldn’t help contrasting his taste in ties with her next-door neighbor’s.” Red “wasn’t too expert a dance partner,” unlike Grant, who “was so much better that there was no comparison.” When Grant drives, “there were no sudden stops or groans or squeaks, as with Red’s car. No dashing around other cars or trying to climb on top of them.” Then Grant proposes marriage to Billie on their first date, in celebration of his recent divorce. He wants an answer next weekend, and he’s going to drive her up to his house in the mountains, where the nearest phone is miles away. She’s really looking forward to it: “The bass should be biting, with spring just around the corner,” she tells Red, all eagerness and no tact.
Before the fateful weekend arrives, Red makes a proposal of his own—he’s been offered a position in a practice in Nashville, and Billie can come with him and become a pediatrician! But Billie counters that Dr. Barnes, now felled by a stroke, has offered her his very prestigious practice, and Red has to allow that Billie would be better off taking over Dr. Barnes’ practice. “Red had to be honest. This might blight all his hopes, but Billie had to make her own decision regarding her future work. The most important thing was for Billie to be happy. Dr. Foster loved this young lady doctor—all the way.” If only Billie returned the sentiment: “Again, she wished that she could have fallen in love with this nice redheaded doctor.”
Up at Grant’s cabin on that fateful day, Billie has cooked dinner and cleaned up afterward—“that’s a woman’s job,” she says, and he helpfully answers, “then get a hustle on with those dishes”—and she is sitting down before the fireplace when she notices a bit of gold glinting in the ashes, and now we are just waiting, not totally without anticipation, for dumb Billie to turn down Grant and for him to choke the life out of her and bury her alongside Cynthia in the rose garden back home. When she tells Grant she cannot marry him, he gets all frosty: “You gave me your word you would never let me down, remember?” He picks the gold from the fire, and it’s a heart-shaped locket, and then the penny drops and Billie wonders, “Why, he might have hurt Cynthia … Grant might even have killed her …” She’s calmly asking him to take her home when he snaps and grabs her wrists. “Are you running away from me, too, Billie? Just like Cynthia …” Cue the door bursting open and Red barging into the room—
Though in the aftermath the obvious occurs—Billie “discovered that love did not have to make your heart do flip-flops. Love could be a steady flame,” and this is what she has apparently felt, totally oblivious, for Red all along—there’s a little surprise too, which I won’t spoil. Red is a cut above the usual boyfriend in his truly selfless affection for Billie, but he’s not a consistent character, taking her for granted or playing the possessive master, which makes me wonder if he’s supposed to be flawed or if the writer just wasn’t paying a lot of attention. Billie shows surprising and admirable guts when she stands up to Dr. Barnes, and she is clearly rewarded when she gains the old doctor’s trust and practice. But she becomes overly enthralled with Grant despite clear signs of physical and emotional danger and has to be rescued at the end by Red, so again, I can’t decide if this is meant to indicate complexity of character or just poor writing. In the end, the mixed messages without a clear map from the author degrade what could have been a better—but not a great—book.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Country Nurse / Special Nurse

By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1959

The grapevine in the hospital said all the nurses had a crush on young Dr. David Lorimer, but that he only returned the compliment for one, Cathy Linton. But did he? Though he had been her childhood playmate in Springvale, things were different now … and there was Patrice McDaniel, glamorous, a little wild, but sure of herself where David was concerned. And if David married her, one day he would inherit the directorship of the hospital from his father-in-law. What could Cathy offer him? It seemed out of the question. Yet that lovely summer day by the river when he had tried to kiss her … Meanwhile, work was exciting and far more important—there were other lives and hopes to think about. Roommate Jean Adair and her little Barby … Dear Aunt Dorie … Aunt Margaret, too, who wasn’t so dear … and who was the mysterious stranger who had been searching for Cathy?

This book was also published by Lancer Books
under the title "Special Nurse" in 1967.
The cover illustration is by Mort Engel.
“Almost any kind of marriage is better than none. I know, because I’m an old maid. You get married, honey, and have a home and babies, so that your heart won’t be empty like mine.”
When Nurse Cathy Linton’s father, the local country GP, dies suddenly, he leaves her less than nothing—mean old Aunt Margaret, who has more money than God, turns up to console Cathy with papers showing that her father owed Margaret $10,000, which she expects Cathy to repay. Margaret also tells her that she’s to start a new job at Barrett Memorial Hospital in Memphis, 70 miles from her country home, at noon that day. So she packs—“We must hurry, Cathy,” says Margaret’s sister Dorie, “Margaret has a luncheon engagement”—and off she goes, the country mouse to the big city.
She’s given a bungalow on the hospital grounds, which she shares with Nurse Jean Adair, who is never home, mysteriously, and it’s two weeks before they actually cross paths. Cathy is lonely, of course, but the saving grace for her is that Dr. Daniel Lorimer, her childhood friend, is also working at Barrett. She hasn’t seen him in ten years; he left town when he was 17 and she was 13. She hears a lot of gossip about him from the other nurses, such as, “He keeps his heart in deep freeze. Just has no time for women.” Well, maybe one woman—he takes Cathy home to Springvale for a day and, after a swim in the river, tries to kiss her, but she slaps him hard! Because after all, he’s engaged to Patrice McDaniel, the daughter of the hospital chief! Which she knows for a fact because everyone at the hospital says so!
Meanwhile, Aunt Dorie, who never married, is growing weary of living on Aunt Margaret’s largess and under her thumb. What she wouldn’t give to have a job as a baby nurse! And as fate would have it, we have a baby who needs nursing—Jean’s baby Barby, almost three, is being cared for by Jean’s grandmother, but Gramma ain’t as spry as she used to be and keeps forgetting to feed the baby. And where’s the father? Well, it seems he lost his job and then disappeared, but Jean knows that Johnny really loves her and will come back some day, so can’t bring herself to file for divorce. So Dorie moves in with Gramma and Barby, and now Jean and her family are happy and well-fed.

It turns out the hospital gossip mill has something to say about Cathy, too, that she is engaged to Dr. Bob Kendall, whom she’s dated a couple of times but has no especial fondness for. Though she is shocked to hear such outrageous lies spread about her, when te same grapevine declares that the announcement of David’s engagement to Patrice is also imminent, she is totally crushed by the news. Then one night David catches Cathy out walking on the hospital grounds and tells her that a new hospital is opening in Springvale, and he’s been offered the job as head of it. He’s going to take it, of course, and he wants Cathy to marry him and come home and work there with him. But she can’t marry him, because she owes so much money to Aunt Margaret: “I can’t marry a man and let him shoulder such a debt,” she tells Jean—not David, of course, who is left completely in the dark as to why she’s turning him down. So when she hears the next day at the hospital that Patrice is marrying David, the stupid girl “believed Patrice was the girl David really loved.” Argh!

Not to worry, though; before too long, all the loose ends are swiftly tied up. Jean’s husband comes back; Mildred, Jean’s new roommate, finds out that the woman she saw her boyfriend with was his mother, who is in town to meet Mildred in anticipation of the couple’s engagement; a mysterious man who has been looking for Cathy since the beginning of the book (and doing a really poor job of it) turns up with a letter from Cathy’s dead father, which turns out to be a contract of sale of an invention he’d been working on that will earn her, his sole heir, $46,000.78. Now she can marry David—“then she told herself not to be absurd. Everyone said that Patrice was back in the picture now. Nearly all of the gossips were betting they’d get married.” It takes good old Jean to tell David the truth, and to get him to come back for one more try at setting stupid Cathy Linton straight. I wasn’t completely overjoyed when he succeeded.

During most of the last half of this book, I had the distinct impression that I’d read this book before. When I checked on the other book of Ms. Welch’s that I’d read, Nurses Marry Doctors, that déjà vu feeling became clear: It, too, has the same misunderstanding between the heroine and her intended, who thinks she’s going to marry the other doctor she’s been casually dating; the same young nurse caring for a baby without a father (in the other book, the baby was named Betsy, not Barby); the same nurses living in bungalows on the hospital grounds where they spend a lot of time strolling; even down to the same pleasant light sweetness that pervades the book. It’s not a bad read, but it’s not really satisfying—Aunt Margaret never gets a comeuppance, Cathy’s stupidity remains intact and unchastised at the end. The only faint hope for Cathy’s redemption lies in the fact that in the end, when he asks her if she loves him—“You couldn’t possibly have let such a ridiculous thing as a debt come between us, if you had”—she essentially proposes to him, saying, “I love you very much, David. I—want to marry you if you still want me.” But like I said, it’s only a faint hope, and I can’t imagine that anyone as susceptible to hospital gossip and as unable to communicate with her beloved as Nurse Cathy Linton is going to remain happy for long.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Courtship of Nurse Genie Hayes

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1963
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire
To Genie Hayes sent to nurse its crippled owner, the tiny island called Raiford Cay looked like paradise. But the enchanted spot had its share of serpents. Janice Burton, Henry Raiford’s lovely ward, was consumed with jealousy of the new nurse. And the patient himself was a source of worry and confusion. What was the mysterious ailment that confined him to a wheelchair? And why did he refuse to see his wife and son? Genie discovered that the unhappy family on Raiford Cay needed her understanding and tenderness as a woman even more than her skill as a nurse—and she gave both freely!
“People who scarcely glanced at a girl in street clothes would pause and give her a startled, admiring glance once she was clothed in her crisp white. And that, Genie told herself firmly, was only fair, considering the way a girl had to work before she was given the privilege of donning that uniform!”
“The poor men go around believing that it is they who do the chasing—when any girl knows that if she really wants a man, she has to run him down and brand him.”
“Marriage and a home and children—that’s the most important thing in life for a woman.”
When our heroine, Nurse Eugenie Hayes, arrives on Raiford Cay to care for dying paralyzed Henry Raiford, the island’s only other white girl greets her by saying, “There’s one good thing. At least you’re not pretty, are you?” Janice Burton, you see, has her eye on Henry Raiford’s son and heir Scott—either him or the boat captain Aleck Rogers, she hasn’t quite made up her mind yet. “And until I make up my mind, you’re to let them both strictly alone. Is that clear?” she tells Genie. Well, maybe not; soon Aleck is kissing Genie in the garden, and “it did something crazy to her heart, ordinarily a very well-behaved organ that minded its own business, and rarely indulged in acrobatics.” Though she’s convinced that Aleck is just toying with her, “she knew, much as she wanted to deny it, that she would be perfectly happy spending her life anywhere at all, as long as she was with Aleck! She had to face the fact that she was already in love with him!” And since Janice seems to pay little mind to Aleck, and is constantly seen on Scott’s arm, her declared interest in Aleck comes across as not exactly sincere, and we imagine that apart from territorial jealousy, she wouldn’t seem too upset to lose Aleck. So from the book’s outset we have everyone pretty nicely paired up.
When she’s not mooning over Aleck, Genie is trying to care for the curmudgeon Henry, who doesn’t seem to be dying at all and wants little to do with Genie. Instead, he spends all his time with his Asian manservant, Mike, who glares at Genie when he’s not playing chess with Henry. The only other person he talks to is Janice, his wife’s god-daughter, who runs the house. Henry hasn’t allowed his wife Mimi or son to see him in over a year, and Genie soon decides that Henry is “willing himself to die!” But why? He refuses to talk about it, and his family has no idea why—though it seems clear that Janice knows, and is working as hard to keep the secret as Mike and Henry.
Soon, though, the truth is outed to Genie in an offhanded way when the blanket Henry keeps in his lap gets caught in his wheelchair and is pulled away to reveal that he is a double amputee, a state so frightening that no one could ever love him if they knew. Later in the garden, Genie tracks down Janice, who spits up the whole story: Henry’s legs had been crushed in a boating accident, and he’s so convinced that Mimi and Scott will shriek in horror when they see him that he has vowed never to let them find out, the miserable dope. We get the entire family history in three paragraphs, how Henry signed over his business holdings to Scott and grew the hedges tall enough that he could go out on the balcony without being seen and had his rooms converted to a self-sustained suite so he would never have to leave them. I can’t stand this sort of sloppy story-telling, when we are brusquely told the back story—and not even by the principal actors—because the author can’t be bothered to figure out a less lazy way to deliver it to us.
Though Genie senses from the “genuine emotion” in Janice’s voice that she feels “a genuine love for Henry,” Janice insists that Genie keep the secret, saying, “It makes me sick to my stomach to look at him and know about those hideous stumps.” Genie, however, feels that Janice has an ulterior motive: “There’s just one thing that isn’t clear, Janice. That’s why you want things left as they are,” she says. But Genie has sworn to Henry that she will keep the secret, so she does—and then we have another offhanded reveal, when Henry has a heart attack and everyone just rushes in with the doctor and sees his stumps, and guess what? They don’t despise him, after all! And his heart is going to be just fine, too: “No scientist has ever been able to invent a more powerful medicine than love,” says the island’s doctor. “He’s going to be all right now that the strain of loneliness and heartsickness is over.” Phew!
Curiously, rather than slap her husband across the face for being such an ass, Mimi turns on Janice with the same allegations of double-dealing that Genie had made earlier: “You let him refuse to see us. Why, Janice?” When Janice replies that she did it because it’s what Henry wanted, Mimi answers, “What he wanted, Janice, or what you wanted?” and then stomps off before she can get an answer. “Janice seemed to hold herself somewhat aloof, but the Raifords were too happily absorbed in each other even to be aware of her behavior,” and that’s all the book is going to give us on this matter. But it’s unclear to me what Janice could gain from keeping the family apart: Since Henry has already given Scott the entire estate, he has no money to give her, and it doesn’t seem like he would have interfered with her marrying Scott. So this red herring is left dangling.
Another side plot involves a nefarious gun-runner Del Rivers, who has crashed offshore and is being nursed back to health by Genie and Dr. Caleb, the local medico. Curiously, after the Raifords are reunited, Janice pops up at the clinic, flirting with the outlaw and lying to Scott about it—and again, it’s not clear at all what Janice has to gain from winning over a thug who is being chased by international police, even if he is “the best-looking thing I’ve ever seen! He’s a dream-boat!” Up until now, Janice has been far too self-interested to be sucked in by a pretty face, and I couldn’t figure out why, with a wealthy landowner like Scott practically in the bag, she would risk losing him for a man with so little to give her. I had to chalk it up to more lazy writing.
To make matters even worse, Dr. Caleb then informs us that Henry’s heart attack was a complete fake—that he had decided to let Mimi and Scott back into his life, thanks to Genie’s persistence that he was mistaken about how they would feel about him with two hideous stumps for legs, and felt that this was the best way to go about it. This makes him far and away the most duplicitous rat in the book, even lower than Janice or Del Rivers, who at least are honest about their evil intentions. But Henry’s reputation as a dear, sweet old man is unsullied in Genie’s eyes, and her prior reputation as a gal with sense begins to slip.
Then, for the author’s crowning sin, Genie becomes engaged to a man she has not exchanged two glances with throughout the entire book. Needless to say, this comes totally out of the blue, particularly since throughout the book we have been treated to sentences such as, “Genie firmly ordered her heart to behave itself and stop whimpering Aleck’s name.” So the “courtship” that we have been promised in the book’s title, slim and miserable as it would have been if she had ended up with Aleck, is a total and utter fabrication with her actual betrothed. For the final slap on your way out the door, she turns to him and asks, “May I still be Dr. Caleb’s assistant?” as the old doctor has just hired her as his nurse. He condescends that he “wouldn’t mind” if she works. “You’re going to be a very nice husband. You’re so understanding and willing for me to do what I want to do,” she croons. “I’ll never do anything or go anywhere that you don’t want me to go.” And with that, my total disenchantment with Nurse Genie Hayes was complete.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Judy George, Student Nurse

By Patti Stone, ©1966
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti
For Judy George, nursing is full of challenge and drama. When an accident case is brought into emergency, Judy is strangely attracted to the gaunt, red-haired victim known only as Joe Smith. Though his recovery is quick despite a persistent loss of feeling in one thumb, Joe is depressed. To help him overcome his handicap, Judy convinces him that the best therapy is to work at the hospital. He surprises everyone with his care and concern for crippled children. Judy wonders just what he did before the accident, but Joe mysteriously guards his past. Soon Judy realizes that, despite the fact he is still a stranger to her, she is in love with him. But how can she plan the future with a man who refuses to discuss his past?
“I bet you’re a first-year intern. They’re the only ones I know who go around bragging they’re doctors.”
“Our theme song is the ambulance siren.”
“It’s surprising how much courage a touch of lipstick can give a woman.”
“His chart shows he’s been having the delirium tremens for 24 hours.”
“Yes,” Joe said soberly.
“It wasn’t easy to stop nursing, Judy. But my husband—and now my son—work long hours under tension. They want to put their problems aside in their home. I suppose most nurses daydream of marrying a doctor and working by his side. Well, that wasn’t the kind of wife my husband wanted. But, by creating a calm, pleasant atmosphere, I feel I am helping him in my own way.”
“You’ve studied so much in the past few weeks that pretty soon you’ll be up in surgery as a patient being operated on for strabismus—which, in case you’ve forgotten, is crossed eyes.”
Judy George is yet another nurse-orphan, raised by yet another country GP grandfather, Grandpa Noah, along with her sister and three younger brothers. Anne is now working as a nurse back in Wheatville, married and expecting a baby of her own, while still raising their brothers. Judy is finishing her final year of training at Bonifacio General in Kansas City, and as the book opens she is trapped in the service elevator with Dr. Harry Jennison, an up-and-coming OB/GYN whose father is chief of staff at the hospital. They immediately start dating, but Harry seems more into it than Judy. She’s bound to go back to Wheatville after she graduates, and Harry, she knows, is just not meant for a small-town practice. “Harry considered Wheatville just a wide place in the road,” so that cools Judy’s ardor somewhat. “She was committed to going home as soon as she finished training. She didn’t dare fall in love.” Famous last words.
Then this man is brought into the ED when Judy is working there. His arm has been damaged in a car accident, and he has no identification on him. When he wakes up, he gives his name as Joe Smith—gee, I wonder if that’s an alias?—and is a charity patient on the ward, though his clothes and car were expensive, and he is clearly well-educated. He tells everyone that he has no friends or family, and he is grumpy as all get out because his right hand is partially paralyzed from the accident. Judy, who is now working on the men’s medical ward, takes him on as a personal project. Why is he so bad-tempered? Then a briefcase is brought in, and Judy takes a peek and finds out it contains sketches, and so concludes “Joe Smith” was an artist. She decides that what Joe really needs is a job, so she orchestrates a position as an orderly for him when he recovers. When she sees him pushing a small boy in a wheelchair, “elation swept through her. She had no idea why, but she had never in her entire life felt so happy.” Well, I don’t know about you, readers, but I can take a guess why. Can you?
He’s still irritable as ever—when Judy exclaims that she’s surprised to see him working, he answers, “I have a funny habit. I like to eat,”—but Judy persists in her friendly way and over time he warms up. Eventually he even asks her out. But he’s still a very angry young man, shouting at Judy and breaking her pencil when she’s all excited that he was able, with his left arm, to draw the bones of the arm when he’s helping her study for her exams. “They teach anatomy in art schools, too, you know,” he growls at her. She grovels for his forgiveness, and he’s kind enough to give it. He’s a swell guy, is Joe Smith.
Then he becomes obsessed with a young boy whose hand was scarred by burns and is now a useless claw. The boy has become virtually catatonic, and Joe is convinced that if the hand is repaired, the boy will get better. He persuades Judy to persuade Harry to persuade his father to persuade his friend Dr. Carter, who specializes in children’s plastic surgery, to take the case. Joe watches the surgery, which is a huge success, of course, but afterward he’s pale and sweating, and he refuses to talk to Judy, “shoved her violently aside,” and runs from the OR. “Before her eyes she had seen a man go to pieces, and she didn’t know why.” Two pages later, Joe has resigned his position and gone AWOL.
Not to worry, there’s nothing like a natural disaster to bring two star-crossed lovers together. Judy is working in the decrepit geriatric wing when the tornado hits and destroys the building. She, in typical VNRN fashion, is the last one out, having gone in to check for any more patients, and Joe shows up the day she is discharged. He drives her home—but guess what, her sister is in labor and not doing well, and the Green River is over the road in a couple of places and one of the bridges isn’t in very good condition, and the phone lines are down so they can’t call a doctor. “She needs a doctor now,” Judy declares, when she and Joe finally arrive and find Anne struggling. Now, prepare yourself for this shocker! “There’s me,” Joe says quietly, and he’s not joking! He’s a plastic surgeon from the very top residency program in the nation, with nine years’ experience! I was pleased that in the end, he doesn’t remember anything about the dosages of medications for birthin’ babies, which would have been a stretch for a plastic surgeon. Mostly he just assists Anne with the labor and then delivers the baby with forceps, with nothing but a tiny bruise on her head to show for it. And he’s so excited by his success that he wants to become a GP in Wheatville! Really? Wheatville? asks Judy the dunce. “This is the only town you’d consider living in,” he answers, and follows that up with his marriage proposal. She accepts, and then he tells her that his name isn’t Joe Smith at all! It’s Jason Sibley!!! Who knew?
This book seemed a bit familiar, as the GP grandfather and the disaster at the end of the book are straight out of Patti Stone’s Big Town Nurse, as is the fact that Patti introduces us to about every single person in the hospital—in this book, we meet 57 medical professionals as well as half again as many patients. And it does bother me when the heroine nurse can’t see what’s been clearly obvious to the reader since, oh, page 18. At 160 pages, this book is too long to contain what little it does, and if it’s not overtly irritating, it doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend it, either, apart from the excellent Lou Marchetti cover.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dude Ranch Nurse

By Diana Douglas
(pseud. Richard Wilkes-Hunter), ©1970

The bus toiled up the treacherous mountain road, carrying red-haired Nicole Lawson to her new job as nurse at the High Sierra Dude Ranch. High Sierra, where March men, her employers, wrangled bitterly among themselves. High Sierra, rimmed by craggy mountains where dangers lurked. High Sierra, where she soon would be the object of violent emotions: jealousy, anger, desire—and love…
“You’re even more attractive when you’re mad!”
“You’re pretty as a palomino.”
“Don’t tell me a girl who looks like you wants to work all the time?”

“She’s too young and far too pretty to be a good nurse.”
There are actually three books called Dude Ranch Nurse, if you can believe it, and the second one I’ve read. (See the first one here; the third is from the Cherry Ames series, which are mystery stories for girls of the Nancy Drew ilk, and so will not be reviewed for this blog.) Of the two VNRNs, this one is better, which is a bit surprising, as this author has earned nothing higher than a C+ from me in the past, while Arlene Hale has garnered three B+ marks. But I think this counts as faint praise.
Our heroine, Nicole Lawson, has taken a job for the summer at the High Sierra dude ranch in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. The ranch is run by the March family, and patriarch Howard is confined to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis. He’s a capable and cantankerous old crab who refuses any kind of help, but Nicole immediately finds him endearing. His son Dane, however, does not. Dane is a boor, the kind of swaggering lout who shows up an hour late to collect Nicole at the bus station. When he does arrive, he offers no apology but instead “his eyes lingered on the full breasts, the slim legs.” These references to the heroine’s anatomy to me clearly bespeak a male writer; women writers will proclaim a heroine’s beauty but pay little attention to their bodies.
There’s another March boy, Dr. Michael, who has set up the ranch’s first-aid station. He lives in Minneapolis—the same city she’s from, thought the two have never met before—and he drops by the ranch, intending to stay only a few days to help her set up shop. The two have a drink together, and he sees her to her door and doesn’t kiss her goodnight, to her chagrin. “If he had wanted to kiss me I would’ve let him! she admitted to herself. I would have been as submissive and thrilled as any fool teenager.” I’ve never heard of teenagers being described as submissive before, but Nicole needn’t worry; soon they’re kissing and making plans to meet in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, there’s an odd dynamic between Nicole and the other male ranch hands. Some of them drop by the clinic and make almost violent passes at her; early on one gets a little too close for comfort and refuses to move away until she opens the autoclave and releases some steam in his direction to frighten him off. Dane is the most aggressive, but Nicole does not seem intimidated by him or the others, out of unrevealed martial arts skills or stupidity: “If anyone like Dane March tried to force her into something she didn’t want to do she would know how to handle him!” Or she’s just kidding herself: Her first night at the High Sierra, a drunken Dane tries to break into her cabin, and she most definitely does not know how to handle it. “Her mind raced with terror,” and she jumps out of bed and presses her back “stupidly” against the locked door while staring fearfully at the windows, wondering if they’re locked, too. She’s saved when Michael turns up and drags Dane away. “But soon Michael would be gone and she would be alone here. She was frightened but she tried to fight her feelings. She was not a schoolgirl to be frightened by sounds in the night, or by a drunk’s attempts to force a drink upon her. If a situation like that arose again she would know how to handle it. She would be firmer next time, if there was a next time. Not scared, as she had been tonight. She would put Dane March, or anyone else who got out of line, right back where they belonged!” Uh, right.
When he comes around the clinic the next day, Dane threatens her, “Don’t try to brush me off, Nicole. I wouldn’t like that.” She puts him right back where he belongs with her usual mantra: “Nobody is going to make me do anything that I don’t want to do. And I mean nobody.” He is so defeated by this that he grabs her, “his strong arms crushed her against him, hurting her breasts. She gasped in pain, and tried to push away from him.” As he is “bending his dark face to hers,” another ranch hand, who has been clawed by a grizzly in the mountains, is carried in the door, and her attacker is foiled.
But the entire situation is swept under the bearskin rug when, after the first day of a camping trip on horseback with the ranch guests, one of the hands gallops into camp. Old Howard March has had a very bad attack of MS, and Nicole is needed to care for him. En route back to the High Sierra, the bloodthirsty grizzly attacks the ranch hand and kills Nicole’s horse. She escapes into the mountains, but this bear is either really hungry or really pissed, because soon it’s coming after her. She crawls into a cave, and though the bear is unable to reach her through the tiny entrance she wriggled through, it discovers a hole at the top of her hiding place and digs its way in. As it plops into the cave, though, she squirms out the entrance again—and now the bear is trapped inside the cave, unable to get out the way it came in. When she’s done vomiting, Nicole looks up and sees Michael with her chaperone ranch hand, who hadn’t been killed by the bear after all, climbing up to her. She promptly faints, waking back at the High Sierra to hear Howard—now totally cured, apparently—asking Michael if he’s planning to marry Nicole. He is, of course; he’s going to take her back to Minneapolis that very day and marry her, and “we’re not coming back.” Sure, she says, though as she’s kissing him she’s thinking about all the vacations they would spend at High Sierra.
The abrupt ending leaves quite a few questions about the March family unanswered. Dane is unreprimanded for his predatory behavior, and lives on to assault future ranch nurses. The brothers are as embattled as ever, perhaps now more so, since that Michael is marrying the object of Dane’s aggressions. Nicole’s unrealistic attitude of invincibility remains intact; though she was able to ward off one ranch hand and the grizzly, she was clearly unable to protect herself against Dane and has learned nothing from the experience. But the story itself isn’t half bad, even if—as usual with Richard Wilkes-Hunter’s novels—there isn’t much to it. If you are intent on visiting a literary dude ranch, if only so you can say with a laugh that you have, this is the one to pick, but don’t expect much from the trip.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

City Doctor

By Thomas Stone
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1951
Sometimes working with Philip was more than Jane could bear. She admired him as a doctor; she loved him as a man. But Philip preferred women like Cynthia—Sin for short. So Jane worked with him day after day, while his nights belonged to Cynthia, until that night when Jane found herself in desperate trouble, trouble that would smear her over the front page and wreck her career. No one could help but Philip, and to help her she must make him see her as a woman. … Here is a dramatic, behind-the-scenes story of the medical profession—the private lives of some of those men and women in white.
“His patients practically never had the bad manners to die on him.”
“I play no favorites,” Phil sometimes said, when a woman asked him if he preferred blondes, or what. “All I demand of my gals is that they know how to hold their liquor, mean that come-hither look in their eye, and that I’m the one man in their life, as long as I’m holding them in my arms.”
“San Francisco is my first and truest love. But the old city is really quite a trollop, you know. She was conceived in abandoned sin. The miners came in Forty-Nine, the gals in Fifty-One. And when you think of the lovers she’s had since—show me a two-fisted, hard-drinking man who hasn’t loved San Francisco—she’s really quite the scarlet hussy. And still going strong, after nearly a hundred years.”
“Mrs. Lambert does so enjoy being ‘examined’ by you.”

“Too many casual dates leading up to a casual week-end was the most effective way to turn an efficient nurse into a darned nuisance.”
“I think women who go in for being reforming influences in other people’s lives should be drowned at birth, don’t you?”
“Every attractive woman should take time out for love now and again. It keeps you young, helps the circulation, and it’s very broadening. Don’t you want to be broadened?”
“Her hold on him was like the hold liquor gets on a man. The more you had, the more you wanted.”
“You’d be surprised how fast a lady can turn into a tramp.”
“Haven’t I told you your little iceberg of a nurse could be had, if you put your mind to it?”
“I’m not sure you’ll rate so high as a lover, without a few shots of liquor to start you off. Look at you tonight—about as passionate as an ossified oyster.”
“The women men respect are usually dull, stolid creatures with low blood pressure.”
“That breath of yours is strong enough to wipe out a Nazi division.”
“You make a lover sound like these one-a-day vitamin tablets they advertise on the radio. Are you feeling low, depressed, suffering from an energy deficiency; is it hard for you to get started in the morning; are you exhausted when night comes? Then take a lover a day, and you’ll be astonished at the quick pick-ups. Lovers are priced very reasonably and you can find one at your nearest corner drug store.”
“Youth tears itself apart over things that were very unimportant. But only age teaches you this. Nothing else can teach it to you.”
“Women are all alike, under the skin—all wenches. A man hasn’t got a chance.”
“This is a swell drink, baby. There are a lot of things you don’t understand. But how to make drinks isn’t one of them.”
“The minute a dame gets a hold on a guy, she figures she’s got to start doing things about his life.”
“Oh, it’s love all right, because I’ve lost my appetite. No other man ever did that to me before.”
It is with great joy that I offer you the best nurse novel I have read all year, and once again loudly proclaim Florence Stonebraker’s genius. Not only is this a picture of a relationship that feels profoundly true at its heart even as it dolls itself up in a campy sequined dress and feather boa, but this hard-boiled yet gentle story is as much a romance with the city of San Francisco. So if you think that fabled metropolis is the greatest on earth, as I do, you will be greatly pleased by all the references to local landmarks as well as passages such as: “Phil got up and walked to the window. He lit a cigarette and stood there staring down into the steady drizzle which sprayed the city below, wrapping it in mist. It looked beautiful. Rains, sun, or fog—San Francisco was eternally beautiful. It was forever a dream city.”
Jane Walters is a 24-year-old nurse who has worked for two years in the office of Dr. Philip Hastings, located on Sutter Street. (In real life, Florence’s husband William also had an office on Sutter Street, in 1933, just before he left his second wife and ran off to marry Florence. But that’s another story.) Philip has a high-profile and profitable practice of “wealthy idle women whose ailments, in a sense, were one of their sources of amusement.” They summon the good doctor to administer a nightcap when they can’t sleep, wink, wink. Philip is, in other words, a slut.
His problem, as the book opens, is that “he was sick of it, to his soul. He was sick of money that he hadn’t really earned. He was sick of the kind of life he’d been living; being a fashionable, high-priced doctor by day, a playboy by night.” Worst of all, he’s been rejected by the Army because he has gastric ulcers, brought on by too much drinking. “It wouldn’t, of course, be some sturdy, he-man disease that could kill a fellow off, something he needn’t be ashamed of, but ulcers,” he says of his diagnosis. This rejection has made him dwell on past failures, such as how he was drummed out of a career in—what else?—surgery, due to a little confusion about his relationship with his mentor’s wife, a situation in which he was, for once, actually innocent.
So, maudlin and full of self-pity, he ventures back to the office after a five-day bender that included extended visits to Dizzy Dick’s and several fistfights resulting in a black eye, and tells Jane to tell Mrs. Lambert with the liver condition, who thinks she’s “turning yellow all over,” to “change her brand of whiskey.” Jane, though she recognizes that her boss is not quite right, adds to his misery by telling him that she’s leaving his employ, because “there’s work to be done in the world these days. Real work. I can’t go on any longer playing at work.” Jane’s not cruel, she’s just sees what he really needs: “Pity would be the worst thing in the world for him. What he needed most was to be prodded into standing up to reality and doing a little grappling with it.” So she gives him a few straight facts about himself, and instead of firing her, he asks her to lunch, the first time he has shown any personal interest in her. “You’re the first woman who ever talked to me like that,” he tells her. “You’ve been like a tonic to me.”
They go to lunch in Chinatown, he begs her to stay, she accepts. We spend a long afternoon eavesdropping on their conversation, and Phil tries to tell Jane, in a clumsy, honest way, that he’s fallen in love with her. But their new-found romance isn’t going to be so easy. Phil’s most frequent “lovely” is Cynthia Bolton—Sin for short—“a black-chiffon-negligee type of gal,” married to a famous war pilot who was blinded in battle and is now recovering in Palm Springs. She has taken Phil “as a lover,” which is unusual in that these novels very rarely ever give anyone a sex life. And in this case, Cynthia “had more stark physical attraction for him than any woman he’d ever kissed.” But now that he’s found Jane, “there was something flat to it. Somehow, it wasn’t as wonderful as it used to be.” He tries to break it off with Cynthia, but she refuses to go quietly, and tells him that she will tell her husband that she wants a divorce to marry Phil, which will splash his name all over the papers—especially after that incident a few years back with the surgeon’s wife, who named Phil in her suicide note before she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge—and he will never work again. Never! So Phil’s stuck with Cynthia for now, but still seeing Jane—they spend the night together in a rented bungalow in Carmel, a first for any VNRN heroine I’ve met.
They have an interesting argument about Phil’s growing jealousy of Jane’s work, which takes her into an aging neighbor’s house in the evenings. Phil hints that Jane is a “tramp,” which the book repeatedly holds up as the worst thing a gal can be, but then he apologizes: “I hate having to share you with other people,” he says. “I hate having to share you with your work. I want you—I want all of you. Men are like that.” Jane responds, “Either your love for me means something, and it includes understanding and friendship and a willingness to share me with the things that are important to my life, including my work—or it doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s just another phoney.” Phil is angered by Jane’s response: “If just this once she’d come to him in the meek humility and surrender of love,” he thinks. But she does not! Instead, she quits! Then there’s another little misunderstanding, when Phil finds Jane in the arms of the surgeon who she believes been squelching Phil’s application for a job in surgery at the hospital, which seems like it might be the end of Phil and Jane, but it is Cynthia, oddly, who lets slip a bit of information that puts everything to rights between them. Phil passes his Army physical, and Phil urges Jane to enlist as well, saying, “Between us, the wounded soldiers will be pretty lucky guys. I’ll fix up their busted legs, and you can touch their fevered brows.” Even the ending of this book is cute.
I am immensely pleased with this book. It has it all: humor, camp, good writing, and a heartfelt story. I urge everyone out there to dig up a copy, fix yourself a frosty cocktail, and settle down with this siren in your lap for a glorious evening.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

His Wife the Doctor

By Joseph McCord, ©1949
Cover illustration by D. Rickard

Serenity Dale, M.D., was firmly established in the city as a Doctor, with an enviable reputation for her skill and hard work. Married to Maury Parrish, a thus far unsuccessful novelist, Serenity was trying hard to prove her theory that marriage and medicine could be happily and profitably combined. All might have gone well had she not accepted, against her own wishes, a position as head of a private hospital, for it was then that her difficulties really began. Before she realized what was happening, Maury was seeking inspiration elsewhere, and she became involved in professional troubles of her own. Fortunately Serenity was a skillful enough doctor and a good enough wife to make her own prescription work, after she was shocked into a realization of the problem with which she was confronted.


“The older I grow the less certain I am just what makes for a successful life.”
“The woman in her transcended the physician momentarily, as Serenity thought to herself, ‘She does something to that hair.’ ”

Dr. Serenity Dale is saddled not just with an unfortunate first name but also a lollygagging, worthless cad of a husband in Maury Parrish. He wants to be a writer, if he could only ever sit down and put pen to paper, but he’s too busy lounging around the house and drinking cocktails. Oh, and worrying that his wife is more successful than he is. “I’m proud of you of course, but I don’t care to be known as Mr. Serenity Parrish,” he tells her in the book’s opening scene, when he has dropped by her office. “I prefer to make good on my own. You don’t suppose I enjoy sponging typewriter ribbons from my wife, do you?” It looks to me like he has little compunction on that score, but that’s just me.
Serenity and Maury are living in the city with Serenity’s uncle, bachelor Dr. John McDonald, who is quite wealthy and keeps a valet as well as a driver for his cars. Serenity has also moved into Dr. McDonald’s practice as his right hand, but soon Serenity is appointed superintendent of the Frances Starr Hospital. Maury, for his part, has published a tepid romance and is now allegedly working on another. He never discusses his writing with Serenity or lets her read his works in progress, nor does he ever ask her about her work. Serenity wonders if Maury is really writing at all, as “when Serenity came home at the end of her day his typewriter frequently was covered and there was no sign of the scattered sheets and crumpled wads of paper that invariably marked his labors and which he never bothered to pick up,” the selfish boor. “Indifference,” she calls it, ascribing to the fact that he was “always accustomed to living on his father’s bounty.” Now he’s living on her bounty: She has no idea how much he’s earning in royalties on his one slim volume, and so tucks a roll of bills into the sugar bowl every week as a roundabout way of keeping him in pocket change.
One day, Serenity comes home to find a “surprise”—Maury is actually writing! To her “added amazement,” he even attempts to throw his unwanted pages in the trash can!! What’s come over the man? Why, Del Patterson, a childhood girlfriend and successful writer—more successful than Maury, not that it would take much—who has recently moved back to town, “And did she bowl me over!” the tactless man tells his wife. “She’s different. Modern as television. Tall and blond! This afternoon she had on a clinging black dress and I mean it had something to cling to. She touched it all off with a long amber cigarette holder, moved about sort of—slinky.” Even worse, he’s talked over his writing with her, and “she could give me some good ideas.” Soon he is dropping in on Del regularly, and becoming “detached and almost moody” at home. Serenity is busier now at the hospital, but he doesn’t seem to miss her. “Some intangible barrier seemed to be rising between them. […] She had to ignore it. If she ever were to lose her sense of dignity, all would be lost.” Because it’s worse to lose your dignity than your husband, apparently. Though in this case that would be true.
He gets a new car, and the first place he gets to is Del’s apartment, where he kisses her. Then Maury’s father, a small-town doctor, dies, and he goes home to deal with it—taking Del, and leaving Serenity at home. When Serenity follows along a few days later to attend the funeral, all Maury can talk of is the fact that he’s not getting a lot of money from the estate. “Maury didn’t realize where much of his father’s substance must have gone. College and two years abroad. Those things took money and doctor’s fees were none too easy to collect,” Serenity thinks, sharing none of this. She’s horrified by his “repugnant” attitude, particularly since he demonstrates no grief at all at his father’s death, but she attempts to paper it over with the idea that “since their marriage he had been almost entirely dependent upon her earnings. Had it harassed and mortified him even more than she had suspected?” I’m not sure that’s a valid excuse, but it’s what Serenity tells herself to stay invested in her marriage.
Back at work, the hospital’s benefactress checks into her own hospital with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal illness of creeping paralysis that eventually stills the muscles needed to eat and breathe. Ms. Starr’s doctor has prescribed a treatment requiring her to move and speak not at all—which is particularly cruel, if you understand that these abilities will soon be stripped from her—but Serenity feels that a new medication could be beneficial. Ms. Starr consults Serenity audibly, defying her doctor’s orders, and when Dr. Latting gets wind of this, he sees it as an unpardonable sin and conspires to have Serenity fired from her job. She comes home completely distraught, but Maury is “gloomy and preoccupied,” and “in no mood to dispense comfort.” He’s upset, he tells Del after he has sneaked out of the house that evening, because he had planned to go away for a bit to “look for atmosphere, see some new plays, meet some interesting people; sort of let me dust myself off, so to speak.” But now “I’ll have to stick around until I find out what [Serenity losing her job] is going to mean. It sure has got me down.” Interestingly, Del seems disgusted by his behavior; “she did not stir from her corner of the couch as she expressed her sympathy,” and when he leaves, “she offered him her cheek instead of her lips and then stepped away.”
The next morning, Del calls Serenity to her house to tell her that she’s leaving town. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to Maury,” she tells Serenity. “Don’t, for Heaven’s sake, think I’m trying to pull something noble. I’m not in the least built that way.” She tells Serenity of her conversation with Maury and that she’s running away, for reasons she won’t disclose—but it seems to me that she’s as disgusted with him, as any sensible person should be, and she has the luxury of not being chained to the damned fool the way Serenity is. “He’s been hoping for a break but not willing to buckle down and work for one,” Del concludes. “I wish for his sake that somebody would talk him out of his writing. He’s not the type to serve an apprenticeship and he can’t afford to be a genius.” She does break into tears and whimper Maury’s name after Serenity has left, but I prefer to think that she’s more broken-hearted that Maury has turned out to be such an ass and is weeping for the man he might have been.
The ending is a bit peculiar—though we can bank on Serenity getting her job back, and Serenity and Maury reconciling (they are married, after all, and we can’t have divorce). Maury burns his manuscript and takes a job as an editor, and when he tells Serenity of this, “something like a sob welled in Serenity’s throat but she choked it back resolutely. Maury hadn’t grown up. He hadn’t!” So when they embrace half a page later and all is set to rights between them, I’m just left scratching my head. The man may have a legitimate career ahead of him as an editor, but his whole affair with Del is swept under the rug in a most unhealthy manner, and Serenity herself doesn’t seem too hopeful for his reformation (or is his lack of maturity to be read as a good thing?). I cannot help but feel that Serenity would be far better off without this barnacle, and that he is only going to bring her greater misery in the future. She’s won the battle but lost the war.
We the readers, however, are unequivocal winners with this book. The writing is quite good and entertaining throughout, such as when Del drops by the hospital to see Serenity and tells her, “You’ve got a friend of mine in here. You’ve been taking her apart for some perfectly good reason no doubt.” (It was an appendectomy.) For another example, Dr. McDonald tells Maury of a dinner guest: “Jim and I have fished together for years. In fact, he’s recently returned from a trip so you may expect to have your credulity strained.” If the ending is a bit ambiguous, I don’t really mind that; this book, at least, leaves me with something to think about. The story moves gently along as novels from this era frequently do, and you can close this book gently when it’s over, feeling that time spent with it was not wasted.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big Town Nurse

By Patti Stone, ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Beth Patton, R.N. left her small-town home for an exciting year in a city medical center—a year which was to shape the course of her entire career. The patients, the surgery, the tense excitement of “big time” medicine, thrilled the young nurse. But before long, Beth was in trouble. First, she disobeyed orders and was lucky not to be fired. Second, two handsome young doctors were romantically interested in her—and Beth knew that a wrong choice would be a disaster to her as a woman and a nurse.


“Her curves do something even for the most shapeless of white uniforms—not that her uniforms are every shapeless.”

“I always did like Georgia peaches—especially blond, cuddly ones.”

“I’ll wait while you put your face on or whatever girls do to look glamorous and efficient at the same time.”

“Keep up the good work, Florence Nightingale. You look real cute and earnest winding a gauze bandage.”

“What a bonbon of a girl you are.”

“Why, what a pretty little thing you are. I would never have guessed you were a nurse.”

“We don’t want a long engagement, but we’ve got to have some time to get to really know each other.”

Beth Patton has been booted from her small-town home in Hooperville, Texas, by her grandfather, and sent to work at the Mallory Medical Center in Houston. (But Houston is not exactly a big town, as billed in the book’s title. Just pointing that out.) They are both of a type: She is yet another orphan nurse, and Grampy is the classic country general practitioner. She won’t be alone there, though, because there’s another stereotypical VNRN character to keep her company: The slightly older boy-next-door, Pete Verbeck, has become a doctor and is interning there, and his twin sister Paula is a lab tech. The pair welcome Beth with open arms: Paula asks Beth to move into her apartment with her and her roommate, nurse Donna Brook, and Pete swoons: “You know, you’re the only girl in the world whose freckles look like gold dust.”

Beth is just irritated by his poetic flattery, partly because she feels he is too frivolous as a doctor. When a bus crashes and the victims are brought in to the ED where Beth is working, Pete breezes in and flirts with one patient: “Have no fear. Dr. Pete’s here.” Beth is infuriated, but “to her surprise the girl looked as if she would have even giggled if she could”—if she hadn’t broken her jaw, poor thing. Pete works tirelessly as a doctor, “but he handled everything so lightly—as if it were a game. ‘Is that all being a doctor means to him,’ Beth wondered. ‘A game—like swimming or golf—something he simply enjoys because he can do it well?’ ”

Instead she is attracted to Dr. Wayne Bega, the grumpy surgical resident. She can’t help but be impressed by him when she hears him animatedly discussing an appendectomy in the cafeteria. “Ruefully she contrasted his dedication with Pete’s breezy manner. ‘Dr. Bega is just what a doctor should be,’ she thought.” But Pete calls her on this: “You’ve been so darned sheltered. It’s made you just a trifle trite, my honey. You put everybody in little boxes. ‘To be dedicated a doctor has to be serious.’ It’s a black and white rule-book world you live in Beth—but it’s no more realistic than a Victorian novel.” But she is unswerving in her devotion to Dr. Bega, and invites him to come home with her for Christmas when he has nowhere else to go.

Raised in a grim, poverty-stricken mining town, Wayne has scrabbled his way into his career, because as God is his witness, he’ll never be hungry again. “To me there’s nothing good about poverty. It’s only degrading,” he tells her, adding that he hardly ever speaks to his brothers, both poor, because they seem contented with their lot. This rubs Beth the wrong way, because she’s lived and worked among poor farmers and fisherman, and knows the dignity of poverty. Pete’s family, on the other hand, is extremely wealthy, and his father runs the Seaview Sanatorium for the well-to-do back in Hooperville, where wealthy women go to recover from their nervous breakdowns and wealthy men from their alcoholic binges. Pete’s got a job alongside his father waiting for him when he finishes his residency in a few months, and this, too, rankles Beth, that he would take such a degrading job.

But Christmas vacation holds a few surprises. Grampy, for starters, thinks Wayne is an egotistical upstart, and Wayne thinks Grampy—Grampy!—is hopelessly old-fashioned. Then Wayne injures his back waterskiing and is ensconced at the Verbeck sanatorium. The ubiquitous epidemic strikes, and Beth and Pete are back in the harness, working themselves to the bone at Grampy’s little clinic. Grampy takes up Pete as his right hand, and Beth begins to afford Pete some very grudging respect. When Pete suddenly becomes mopey and glum after they return to Houston, Beth is suddenly playing the hypocrite: “How many times had she wanted him to be serious and dignified—now that he was—she missed the old Pete more than she had thought possible.” The solemn Pete unburdens himself one evening to Beth: He’s turning down the job at his father’s clinic and is going to work alongside Grampy as a GP. Oh, and will Beth marry him? He’s “one of the best friends she had,” but she can’t imagine marrying him, even if any VNRN reader past puberty can see where this book is headed. And when Wayne proposes four pages later, after a rant about how foolish Pete is to turn down the Seaview job, Beth can’t help but accept. She’s “too dazed to question” when Wayne tells her that “my wife won’t work” and that he can’t wait to buy her a ring because “I want everybody in the world to see that Beth Patton belongs to me.” She has evolved, but only somewhat: “A strange shadow crossed Beth’s mind. No one should belong to anybody else, like a piece of property. But of course, a man in love says things like that. ‘Your wish is my command,’ she whispered.” Well, for now, anyway.

The signs that this match is doomed come fast and furious. A few days later, Wayne tells Beth that he has resigned his residency and taken the Seaview job that Pete turned down, giving up his dream of being a surgeon. Beth is horrified. “You’ll be a—handyman for neurotics and alcoholics and rich women. All your talent will be wasted,” she tells him, but he just talks about all the great stuff he’ll be able to buy with his enormous paycheck. Then when Beth tells Grampy that she’s going to marry Wayne, Grampy freaks out: “You’re a girl raised in the tradition of service. As his wife, your skill and your mind will wilt. I’ll never approve of this marriage—never.” Beth still refuses to see the light, and over the ensuing weeks attempts to persuade Wayne to go back to surgery, but these conversations always end up in “slashing quarrels.” Weeping on the couch one evening, Beth is found by Pete, who gently asks her, “Are you really in love with Wayne—or are you in love with the dream of a dedicated surgeon?” Beth vows she will never confide in Pete again—“That was certain!”

Then Beth and Pete, working the ambulance shift together one day, go to a Mexican tenement to deliver a baby when a gas oven explodes and Beth is trapped by the fire. Rescued by Pete, and wrapped in bandages back at Mallory, Beth realizes who she really loves. When Wayne comes to see her, he tells her that he’s asked for his surgical residency back and will be returning to Mallory in a few weeks. Too late, Wayne is crushed when Beth tells him she’s leaving him for Pete, but Beth consoles herself that “he had found himself able to face things honestly at last. His return to Mallory proved that. And she was sure when the first blow to his ego eased, he would find challenge and comfort in surgery that would make him forget her, even quicker than he thought he would.” She’s probably right, but it still sounds a bit pat.

Overall, this is a very good book. There are enough campy lines from Pete and Donna to liven it up, and the characters are not as facile as I usually encounter in a VNRN. It may well take the prize for packing in the most stereotypical characters and situations of any nurse novel I’ve read, but that doesn’t bother me when the book makes good use of them—the plots of Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice might seem hackneyed, too. Patti Stone recycles plot devices we’ve encountered in her past novels, and stuffs the book with more than 50 named characters, but its worst flaw may well be the inexplicable way Beth turns to Pete after the fire. Nonetheless, these problems are forgivable when the book is as readable, entertaining, and engaging as Big Town Nurse.