Saturday, June 1, 2013

Harmony Hospital

By Jeanne Bowman
(pseud. Peggy O’More Blocklinger), ©1967

Life or death cases were nothing to Linda Lovell … but the mysteries she encountered during her nights in the mansion of Harmony’s benefactress Marion Mangrove threatened to destroy her. Why was intern Dan Mavery afraid to enter the mansion? Why was Marion always spying on Linda? Why was Bob Ingersoll, the man who once jilted Linda, now trying to win her back? And why, if Dr. Ed Eaton loved Linda, did he warn her to beware of Marion’s actions—and leave her there!


“Yesterday, walking on the avenue, a small boy took one look at me and hid under his mother’s skirt. Quite a feat these days. What?”

“I know what I’d like to give you, but as this is a hospital and Emergency’s right over there, you’d recover too quickly.”

When I was in college, a friend who was fighting a frustrating and lopsided battle with acne declared that he was going to just give up and rub Crisco on his face. After a long string of C- nurse novels, I was feeling the same defeated despair, and so chose a book by Jeanne Bowman for my next review. If I’m going to read a lousy book, at least I have no disappointed hopes with Ms. Bowman.

Well, that’s not entirely true, because the book’s cover is an outright lie: Our heroine, Linda Lovell, is not a nurse’s aide, but what appears to be a secretary (among other clerical tasks, she types up patient menus) for Harmony Hospital, so this is not even a nurse novel. (Neither, as you might suspect from the back cover blurb, is Dan Mavery an intern, or is Bob Ingersoll trying to win her back, or does Marion ever spy on Linda, and during her nights in the mansion, Linda is only sleeping, not encountering any mysteries. But let’s not split hairs.) Linda had wanted to be a nurse, but “when there is limited income, a family concentrates on the one with brains. I have none. It’s been said I was born with an IBM where gray matter should be,” she says, and though this makes no sense to me, it means that the family has chosen to put her older brother through medical school instead of her through nursing school.

On her first day at work, she is essentially picked up by Marion Mangrove, who lives in the mansion next door with her mother, who is never given a first name and is only known as Mrs. Mangrove, even after she marries Mr. Dealy at the end of the book. Marion drives Linda back to Linda’s family’s house in the country, packs Linda’s bags, and then, back at the mansion, unpacks for her as well. Immediately she’s calling upon Linda to help her chauffeur and watch and cut up meat for Mrs. Mangrove, who lives in a wheelchair, though she can walk and do needlepoint perfectly well. Linda is not happy about this domineering landlady but fears that she will lose her job if she moves out of the Mangrove house, as Marion has some unspecified influence at the hospital.

Really, that’s about all there is to the book. The story is about Linda’s attempts to throw off Marion’s chains, free Mrs. Mangrove from the wheelchair, and heal Marion’s controlling personality disorder. And win the affections of Dr. Ed Eaton. Woven through dates, taken by sneaking out the back door when Marion isn’t looking, and typing at the hospital, and Marion’s eventual nervous collapse and hospitalization, are the classic Bowman pop psychology moments. “It is not Marian herself one fights, but your own recoil from the fear thoughts she throws out. And they react upon us physically. We’re so determined she shall not be right, we tense the very areas she indicates and bring about our downfall,” explains Mrs. Mangrove. This is why Marion’s early beau drove off a cliff; she had insisted that he was too upset after a quarrel to drive. You see the power this woman has!

In Harmony Hospital, Jeanne Bowman overindulges in her penchant for alliterative names: Of course, there’s Linda Lovell, and her siblings Leon and Lucille Lovell; Marion Mangrove and her father Max and brother, the curiously named Manuel Mangrove; Edward Eaton, Emily Enders, Carrie Carlton, and Dick Dealy. Her writing continues to prove clunky and obtuse; characters regularly drop analytical and clumsy remarks such as, “Have you time to sit down and elucidate?” “Linda asked aloud if whales traveled in families or checked water displacement intuitively to determine how many moved within a short distance.” “I might say prothrombin is indicated instead of the three of spades.” “Don’t blame the building [for the tragedies that have taken place there]. It’s the people who inhabit it, their chemical reactions to other people that precipitate events.” Standing on its own, one unwieldy sentence seems harmless enough, but when you keep slamming into these verbal brick walls on about every other page, it’s way too much.

Then we get a too-swift conclusion when Mrs. Mangrove, Marion Mangrove, and even lovely Linda Lovell are healed by the power of marriage at the end of the book—though it must be confessed that all we know about Marion’s rehabilitation is that one of Linda’s beaux tells her, after yet another psychoanalytical treatment of Marion’s character, that he’s planning to marry the little tyrant and move to the city (why in God’s name he would subject himself to such a cruel fate is never explained), so we can only assume that Ms. Bowman intends for Marion to accept and, once she’s attained that gold ring, settle down. I, for one, am not optimistic, since the commandeering Marion has shown absolutely no traces of flexibility or human consideration at any point in the book.

It must be admitted that despite its faults, this is actually one of Ms. Bowman’s more innocuous titles. That said, it’s still not worth picking up. So my self-imposed exercise in defeatism now complete, I’m not sure that I feel any better, except now I know that I have one less book by Jeanne Bowman left to read. Which I guess does count for something, no matter how small.

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