Saturday, May 7, 2016

Holiday for a Nurse

By Joanne Holden, ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Valerie Wyndham, R.N., was looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation at a mountain cottage. But Valerie was far too pretty to escape attention, and too much a dedicated nurse to deny a request for help. That was how she found herself involved with the darkly handsome Adam Balin, owner of the famous Balin estate. But the charming young doctor, Ted Meredith, hated Adam and wanted Val to himself. And there was someone else—someone who had made it clear that Valerie was unwanted, and would stop at nothing to get her out of the way …


“I think it is my duty to reprove you—or maybe kiss you.”

Nurse Valerie Wyndham is headed for the Berkshires in Massachusetts for vacation, to stay in the lakeside cottage of a fellow nurse. Her arrival, however, is anything but relaxing—she finds a surly, apple-eating teenager ensconced in the place, so arrogant that she doesn’t even bother to split the scene when Val shows up and reprimands her for the damage the youth has inflicted on the owner’s treasured collection of salt and pepper shakers. Val quickly identifies the girl as Peggy Balin and pops into the old Balin estate to have a word with Peggy’s older brother, Adam, who is her guardian, as their parents are deceased. There she finds him, tall, dark, arrogant, unpleasant, and baleful, not excessively willing to take his sister to task for her crimes, and Peggy stomps out after tossing what is apparently meant as a cutting blow, a comment about how limited the Balin family vocabulary seems to be. Shows them!

In what is de rigueur  in VNRNs, the vacationing nurse stops in to say hello to the local GP, Dr. Meredith, who talks about his dream to create a medical center so cushy and resort-like that busy executives wouldn’t mind coming for medical treatment, checking in with their wives for a few days of R&R and prostate exams. Also de rigueur, the next night Val is out on a date with his son, Ted. After he drops her off, she finds an intruder in the kitchen—this one an ugly hobo who makes to attack her, when Ted hears her scream and reappears in time to save her. It’s a gratuitous blip in the story that ends there. I’m not sure what attempted sexual assault was meant to demonstrate in these stories—titillation? setting up the boyfriend as a hero?—but in any event, the offhanded treatment of such a grave issue is more than a little annoying, if not disconcerting.

The next morning, Adam Balin calls to apologize for his rudeness and to invite her over to tour his historic house. While there, Christabel Wheeler, a female acquaintance of Adam’s, drops by, and she’s a beautiful, rich, insulting snob. Val responds by stomping off again, furious at Adam, of all people, feeling that “he had no right to expose her to a situation where she was at a definite disadvantaage as a stranger.” Since Chris had shown up uninvited, and Adam had in fact been angry at Chris for her comments, it’s unclear exactly what he should have done, but try telling Nurse Val that.

Two days later, Val returns from an outing to the village to find the house vandalized again, and an apple core in the sink. But she decides against going to the police because nothing had been broken, and “all she would accomplish would be to put herself on record as a fault-finding, ill-natured termagant.” She decides to go talk to Adam, as she’s now decided that “Peggy needed help, not censure.” The pair hits on the glorious plan of putting Peggy in charge of a bus full of old women coming to tour the Balin house. Needless to say, on the day of the tour, Peggy is nowhere to be found, justifiably dubious about spending the day with Mrs. Regina Abernathy and the Woman’s Culture Club. Not to be thwarted, Adam and Val next plan to drag poor Peggy on a hike, but Peggy skips out on that adventure, too, and Chris shows up in her stead. The outing is a complete fiasco, with Chris spraining her ankle and leaning heavily on Adam the whole way back. Val becomes increasingly irrational, deciding, “that was the type of person he wanted to marry,” though Adam has shown nothing but irritation with Chris the whole day.

For the next crisis, Val is out driving one evening when she comes to a bridge and finds a crowd: Peggy Balin is out on the other side of the railing, and a crowd below is urging her to go for it. So Val shimmies up the girders and psychologizes the poor kid into climbing down. Afterward, as Adam tries to talk to Val about how to manage Peggy, Val goes psychotic and starts fuming about how he should ask Chris Wheeler for her opinion. Adam is rightly confused: “Who says I was going to marry her?” he asks. “No one,” Val is forced to admit. Adam surprisingly agrees to see Val the next day, the last of her vacation, to talk about Peggy. Val cries herself to sleep: “Not a word to show that he cared whether Val Wyndham went or stayed. He had made it plain he didn’t care.” So she pulls the classic seventh-grade mind game and “forgets” that she’s agreed to meet Adam, instead driving out of town with Ted, who’d proposed marriage a few days earlier. She has not yet given him an answer, but refuses him as they are starting their date, and then kisses him later on. I have to say I am not very fond of Valerie Wyndham.

Adam tracks her down that night, as she’s arriving home, and the two discuss sending Peggy away on a cruise ship school, giving Adam’s house to old Dr. Meredith for his wacky health resort idea, and—finally—getting married. Accustomed to nutty women, living with his sister and friends with Chris Wheeler since childhood, Adam is rounding out the trio with Val, the poor man. Though the character of Ted Meredith injects some humor into the book, overall this story is stupid and maddening, and the heroine, as I have previously mentioned, is a dopey nut job. This book may be a holiday for a nurse, but it won’t be one for you if you bother to read it.

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