Monday, August 2, 2021

Special Duty

By Arlene Hale, ©1970 

When Dr. Taylor assigned her to special duty, lovely, auburn-haired Margo McKim felt a sense of pride—and also relief. Perhaps if she poured all her energy into her work, there would be no time left to brood over a love that was lost … but not forgotten. But the assignment only created new problems. Because the patient was famous folk singer Jedd Buckley, the case was kept secret. And his illness itself was shrouded in mystery. What had really caused Jedd’s breakdown? Why was his manager Steve so hostile towards Margo’s help? Why had the handsome, cool-headed Dr. Taylor insisted on her for assignment? Whatever mysterious motives lay behind this case, it was soon no secret that Jedd, Steve, and even Dr. Taylor all were looking at Margo not only as a nurse … but as a woman. She had thought that work would help her run away from love—was she actually running towards it?

GRADE: C

BEST QUOTES:
“Being late is just a form of being dishonest, you know.” 

REVIEW:
Dr. Alex L. Taylor has just relocated to White Hill Hospital from Topeka, Kansas, and the man “has a way of walking by people as if they were sticks of furniture. Did you ever see him smile? … It was inconceivable that he knew any of them by either their first or last name. They were simply women in white. When he wanted one of them, he crooked a finger and expected her to follow obediently behind him, do what he ordered.” Naturally, every nurse in the place is hot for him. 

Except for Nurse Margo McKim. Sure, he’s handsome, but “that holier-than-thou attitude is for the birds,” she thinks. So she’s the one he calls up, arrogantly insisting she meet him at the Oasis Club, to discuss a private duty job he wants to hire her for. He’s got a top-secret patient whose “nerves are shot,” or so the official diagnosis goes. “You have a good figure. You’re also a pretty woman,” he says to Margo. “Just exactly the kind of nurse I’m looking for.” He even asks her if her auburn hair is real, if you can believe it, which of course is what makes for a good RN.

She agrees to take the job, which is to nurse rising folk singer Jedd Buckley out of his stupor. Manager Steve Ryan is extremely concerned about Jedd’s mental health: “You’ve got to have him on his feet in time for Dick’s Discotheque opening,” he insists. “Big deal. Big money. Big publicity. You’ve got to have him ready for it. He sure isn’t ready to crack up! I can just hear what talk that would cause—he might even lose some juicy contracts.” How sweet!

Almost immediately after arriving at Jedd’s mansion, she regrets taking the job when Steve snaps at her, “What I say, goes. And whether you agree or not, I know what I’m doing, and I know what’s best.” But her reward, outside of a big paycheck, is that Dr. Alex is going to see her every day, and he ends his first visit with a kiss. “I’m not just a cold fish after all. There’s hot blood in my veins,” he tells her. So hot that he starts their first real date by assaulting her in the car. She slaps him, and “he reached for her again and he kissed her until she struggled free.” She jumps out of the car and starts walking back to the house, but Alex says he’s really sorry, so she gets back in the car, they have a lovely picnic, and she kisses him back for real when he drops her off at the end of the day. I really don’t understand why it’s so common in VNRNs for women to end up dating, often happily, a man who’s assaulted her.

Back at the mansion, Margo slowly warms up Jedd, whose recovery is aided by numerous pills, because “tranquilizers will help him get a grip on himself.” Eventually he opens up enough to take her on a walk in the woods to meet Zeke, who is the father of a woman he’d been in love with back home, but whom he’d left behind to be a star. Of course, it’s obvious that Sallie Mae is the reason why Jedd has gone into this funk, but it takes everyone else 75 pages and a crisis in which Jedd grabs a rifle and holes himself up in a cave to figure this out.

At this point in the book, everyone, including Jedd’s oldest friend Charlie, who has stood by him through it all, is revealed to have had a fiscally related motive for pushing Jedd to succeed as a performer. Even Margo falls into the pattern of treating Jedd like a show pony who just needs to be whipped a little harder when she tells Alex, “Jedd shouldn’t be allowed to throw in the towel on his career. He has far too much to offer!” Curious that in all this book, no one once asks Jedd what he wants, even in the explosive crisis.

Thank goodness, though, for Nurse Margo, who runs up to the cave with Jedd’s bullets whizzing past her ears to tell him that she’s directed Steve to fly to Tennessee and pick up Sallie Mae on a chartered jet, so hadn’t he better get back home and shave? Everything is quite predictable after this point, though to be honest, it was predictable from the first mention of Sallie Mae’s name. For Margo’s love life, there is a limp red herring in the form of Steve, who has a turn at assaulting Margo and then asking her to be his girl. She mulls it over for about three seconds, and spends twice as long considering Greg Walters, the first man she ever loved, who broke her heart and rendered her an iron maiden, and who makes no actual appearance in the book. But in the end she’s cured of her frigidity as easily as Jedd is cured of his dystonia and homicidal ideations. All you need is the right person in your life!

It’s more than a little disconcerting that not one person in the book puts Jedd’s well-being above his potential as a star; we never hear a single word from Sallie Mae, so we have only the fact that she’s from the sticks and knew Jedd before he was successful to vouch for her character. But Charlie had those same credentials, and look how he turned out! As Jedd pulls himself together and wows them at Dick’s, all the leading players in his crackup express remorse at how selfish they’ve been, but it rings false to hear their regrets only after their own admittedly juicy slice of the pie has been reassured.

The treatment of Jedd in this book as a commodity to be jollied into giving up what everyone wants is not far removed from how the men treat Margo, so that’s a disturbing narrative twin in this book—again, not something that’s ever discussed. The story and the writing are ordinary and serviceable, neither being especially interesting, and the characters are no better. Arlene Hale is not my favorite writer, having garnered a less-than-C+ average in 21 reviews, and unfortunately for me, she was as prolific as she was ordinary. So if it is my duty to read her books, they are seldom special, and Special Duty is true to form.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Wanted—One Nurse

By Joanna Grey, ©1977

Celia Price’s new life in New York as a nurse to a struggling young doctor meant complete freedom from her English mother’s old-fashioned ideas. But it also meant imprisonment by feelings which she tried to suppress for Dr. Eric Adamson, feelings which she rationalized as respect for him as a skilled doctor. But Celia didn’t fool herself one bit! It was love. With no interest from Eric in return, the only direction she could take was away from him. Yet, could she run away from life again? 

GRADE: D

BEST QUOTES:
“New York could turn you daffy, and in a very short time, at that.” 

REVIEW:
I felt no small amount of apprehension when I realized this book was copyrighted in 1977; VNRNs tend to get worse the more recently they were written. (Six of the seven reviews of books written in 1975 or later got C- grades, while the earliest VNRN I have found, “K,” which dates to 1916, got an A.) The trend continues with this dud. 

Here we have gratuitously British Nurse Celia Price, who has been living in New York at 85 West 88th Street in New York City, deciding to work for Dr. Eric Adamson at 226 West 89th Street. He’s setting up a new practice that hasn’t actually opened yet, so they wash the walls and baseboards of his office and go shopping for carpet and linoleum. After the doors have opened, they take care of the patients who trickle in at a gradually increasing rate. Eventually Eric takes Celia for a picnic and, the poor dolt, does not kiss her at a moment when she was hoping to be kissed. This proves to be a fatal mistake for poor Dr. Adamson. “The bitter disappointment and hurt that Celia felt was like a physical pain. As well as that, she felt betrayed. It had taken some courage, and some difficulty, to bring herself to the point where she had to admit that her feelings for this appealing young man went far beyond what was normally expected of an employee. And then, having struggled with her conscience, and forced herself to look at the truth of the matter, he had turned away from her.” This “total rejection” renders her cold and snippy for the next four weeks. Undaunted, he asks her to go to Shakespeare in the Park with him, but she shows him who’s boss when she turns him down—and then “it upset her that he had not asked her again. When she noticed in the paper that the season had ended, she felt that it was almost a personal affront to her.”

In the interim, her roommate Joan meets Eric and they go for drinks while Celia does a slow burn at home. Then she meets his roommate, Mike, and “not that she was thinking of Mike in any romantic way,” but she hopes he might date her. He drops by her apartment and meets Jean, “her hair wet and straggly, her body anything but curvaceous under her shapeless robe,” but within a few hours the two “were completely and totally in love.” So Celia is back to being “curt and short” with Eric even though he remains completely magnanimous, and even takes her to lunch to try to get her to tell him why she’s being so horrid. She doesn’t, but at least she defrosts enough to agree to go with him and Jean and Mike on vacation to a cabin in the mountains. Not surprisingly, Mike falls into a ditch en route to the cabin and breaks his leg, so Eric and Celia are at the cabin alone, which is a shocking risk for her reputation, and there’s a long, dull scene in which Celia becomes increasingly enraged that Eric won’t take her back to New York as he lies smugly on the sofa with his eyes closed. Guess how it ends?

Time and time again, Eric proves himself to be a much bigger person, while Celia is irritatingly small and petty. No sensible reader could possibly understand what drives him to continue to pursue her, but there it is. I wasn’t sure I understood why author Joanna Grey devoted the hours it must have taken to phone in this soggy lump. Some books are so bad they’re good (see Harbor Nurse, A Nurse at the Fair), but this one is just dull, to the point that I was grateful on multiple occasions while I was reading it that it was only 124 pages, and the font not overly small. I can only hope Grey didn’t write any more VNRNs, or if she did, that they were written in the 1930s.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Debutante Nurse

By Lois Hobart, ©1959
Cover illustration by Tom Miller 

Elaine Forrest lived in two worlds. She was a Registered Nurse with an outstanding record. She was also a wealthy society girl soon to wed Bryce Thorne, a prominent lawyer. Her future was neatly planned, carefully catalogued—until Dirk Yeager shouted angrily at her, “Stop kidding yourself, Elaine. You’ve got to face the facts.” Then he turned and stalked off into the night. Elaine was left trembling and frightened. Her professional reputation challenged, her engagement broken, Elaine was passionately involved with a man who could ruin her way of life.

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“‘You needn’t talk as if he were a robot in my hands,’ she retorted angrily. She shivered. ‘Bryce dear, would you fetch my stole from the living room?’”

REVIEW:
Nurse Elaine Forrest is fairly unique in the VNRN genre in that she is, at least in the beginning of the book, a rather horrible character. Spoiled, selfish, and inconsiderate, she’s managed nonetheless to hook physicist Bryce Thorne, because even as a young girl, “the outlines of the kind of life she wanted to shape for herself were quite clear to her, and Bryce fitted into it.” 

On the train to her new job as a public health nurse, she runs into a man on the train. “He was certainly not a type that appealed to her. Too casual, with a tieless open-collared shirt and the tweed jacket slung over his shoulder. There was something too—not irresponsible exactly, not fresh, not precisely unreliable but—uncertain, unpredictable, that was it. And Elaine liked predictable: actions, situations, people that she could interpret and anticipate and deal with.” We’re already waiting to see him pop up again in a few more pages.

When she gets to the office on the first day, she finds everyone a little too relaxed and informal for her liking. She’s “appalled” that the other nurses will do things like run errands or even the dishes, if you can imagine, and on her first visit to a harried family, she “followed the woman upstairs, not supplying her name because the woman was too disorganized to care.” When it’s over, she thinks, “Hardly a very interesting first call.” But she’s OK with that; “she didn’t intend to get into the habit of carrying all her cases with her, as the others did.” Instead, she thinks about what to wear to a party she’s attending later on. So much more satisfying!

Of course, the man on the train turns out to be a new consultant, Dirk Yeager, who is writing a sociology PhD thesis on what he calls “diagnosing families,” which turns out to be a sort of psychoanalysis of relationships within a family to determine how they may be contributing to illness. “We have to understand what the family’s problems are and how each individual fits in,” he explains. Elaine, who has no interest in any of the families of her patients—or even, really, in her patients themselves, beyond their illnesses—is not wild about Dirk’s theories. She’s snippy to him, and the pair are soon arguing at every opportunity, despite the “electricity” she feels when she is forced to dance with him. But she quickly snaps out of it: “This was the real Elaine, carefully groomed, unswayed by any talk of chemistry. This was the Elaine who always knew what she was doing—not that silly, emotional, unpredictable creature of a preposterous situation. Enough nonsense about Dirk. He could not be trusted; he was probably practicing his psychology on her.” Before long, he’s practicing his psychology by taking her in his arms and telling her that he has feelings for her, but “there must be no more of that electricity,” she decides, and she gives him the brushoff.

It turns out, though, that boyfriend Bryce has been hiding a secret—he wants to chuck research and become a high school teacher. Elaine is horrified, and had “the uncomfortable feeling that she had lost control over Bryce.” She admits that “her motive was sheer selfishness; she did not welcome the status of the wife of a high school teacher. She resented the crushing of her plans.” She is openly dismissive of his ideas, but he demonstrates some spine for the first time in their relationship, takes a job teaching despite her disapproval, and then breaks their engagement. How shocking! “Elaine simply could not reconcile this firm Bryce with the one she knew, so amenable to reason, so deferent to her wishes. It was beyond belief.” He is well rid of Elaine, that much is clear.

When Dirk hears of it, he gives Elaine a complete assessment of her character, calling her “a cold fish,” and a “self-centered egotist.” He says that there’s hope for her, since she did choose nursing as a profession when she didn’t need a career at all. “I admire your ability, your intelligence, your purposefulness, but I can’t stand those blind spots—the impersonal way you deal with your patients, your impatience with the element of sympathy that makes a real woman,” he says. These disses from two different men arriving together give her a night of sleepless self-reflection, when “new humility tangled with bewilderment that the things she had been so sure of, her plans and hopes for marriage, Bryce, her very self, should be so baseless and insecure. How could this happen to her? But she was discovering new qualities in herself, new strengths as well as perplexities.”

Then there’s a flu epidemic, and after Elaine spends days vaccinating firefighters, she and her fellow nurses agree to hang out and have a beer with the guys. “It struck Elaine that once she would have ignored men like these, so different in personality and type, so remote from her previous experience of people; and in doing so would have missed the richness of range that she now valued.” She also starts to waken to her patients’ personal lives—to family diagnosis, if you will—and even makes a cup of coffee for a father who’s been up all night. “This warmth and understanding, a sensitivity to the needs of others, was it something Elaine could learn herself? Mrs. Hagstrom had it; Molly Carew had it. No wonder they were marvelous nurses. And marvelous people. Perhaps you didn’t have to conform to some idealized pattern or be socially attractive to find satisfaction in your work and an effective role in life. Maybe Elaine could accept herself for what she was and do the best with her own temperament, whatever its faults. Whatever its faults … strange to think of herself apologetically after all these years, a young lifetime of taking her good fortune and gifts for granted.”

Elaine’s growth as a human being occurs in fits and starts: In one minute she’s thinking about how cramped her old life is, the next she’s thinking of her best friend, whom Bryce is now seeing, as “a girl from a common family and background and education—how could she fit in with Bryce’s breeding, family position, and wealth? She gave her head a toss, trying to shake off this residue of snobbery and ego, but it wasn’t that easy.” This wavering makes her growth more believable, though, and I did like Elaine better in the end.

Overall, the book is well-written, despite giving us nothing pithy for the Best Quotes section. We spend a lot of time visiting patients, and the supporting characters in the book (outside of the one-dimensional male lead) are interesting. Unfortunately, her love life does not evolve as nicely as her growth as a character, Dirk (no surprise there) displaying the same presumption and bossiness that he had condemned in Elaine. I guess it’s OK to be inconsiderate and domineering if you’re a man, and if you’re a woman, you’re just hoping to find a man who will order you around: “A tiny thrill ran though her. Dirk might not leave the decision entirely in her hands.” Curious that the message of this book is that Elaine needs to be more receptive to the feelings of others, while at the same time her beaux are only admirable when they are ordering her around with no consideration of what she wants. But if you can overlook this flaw—one that is admittedly far too common in VNRNs—Debutante Nurse is a pleasant enough read.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Her Soul to Keep

By Marguerite Mooers Marshall, ©1940

With all the fire of youth, Nurse Joyce Randolph served her great profession at St. Botolph’s, a vast New York City hospital. Fighting her lonely duels with death in the long night watches, she was sustained by her love for Dr. Warren Faulkner, brilliant young surgeon. And then one terrifying morning disaster struck. Joyce was called into her supervisor’s office. A patient had died from an overdose of morphine. The evidence pointed to Joyce. Trustingly she turned to Dr. Warren, the doctor on the case, to clear her name. But he refused to come to her defense! Bewildered, grief-stricken, believing her future in ruins, Joyce fled to a tiny fishing village to try to pick up the pieces of a shattered life.

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“The woman who could not do her own dirty work in a boat or in the woods had better stay at home.”

“You haven’t got a thermometer so you can’t take my temperature. It might give you quite a shock if you did.”


REVIEW:
I’d been saving this, the last of the nurse novels by Marguerite Mooers Marshall, who is one of my favorite VNRN authors, and I’m shocked to find out that it’s been more than seven years since I read her third book—hard to believe I’ve been doing this blog for so long. The problem with all that anticipation is that sometimes a book does not deserve it. I have to say that this was not one of her best—but even one of her “worst” books is so much better than most other nurse novels out there that it’s hard to feel terribly disappointed. 

Nurse Joyce Randolph is working at a New York City hospital on the night shift, and the sloppy day nurse, Evelyn Adams, is late again. In an attempt to help cover for her colleague, little though she deserves it, Joyce gives the morning dose of morphine but does not document it, as it would be in her handwriting (those were the days) and would therefore out Evelyn, who would have been the one to give the dose if she’d showed up on time. The patient is the daughter of the chair of the hospital board of trustees, so she’s to get VIP treatment—but what she gets is a double dose of morphine when Dr. Warren Faulkner shows up later. Though Evelyn has told him that Joyce already gave the morphine, he believes the patient when she says Joyce withheld it out of meanness, and orders Evelyn give another 10 mg morphine—and the patient promptly dies.

Joyce is immediately fired and, worse, blackballed from nursing altogether, because Evelyn is now saying that Joyce never told her about the first injection—and Dr. Faulkner refuses to defend Joyce, the rat! It turns out that Dr. Faulkner is hoping to get a plum job with a senior surgeon, and word that he had ordered the fatal dose would make him unworthy of such a post, so he has asked Evelyn to lie for him. He asks Joyce to not fight her dismissal, too, but the hitch here is that he is her boyfriend and, she hopes, her future husband. “That the brilliant young physician she admired so much should lie to cover an error in judgment—even a fatal error—was bad enough. But that he should connive with Evelyn Adams, entrust his professional honor to her keeping—oh, how could he, how could he?” She’s overlooked the part where her beloved has asked her to sacrifice her entire career for a small blot on his, but eventually she remembers that and storms off.

He’s back later, though, insisting on her silence and promising to marry her in the fall if she stands by him. But “she could not so soon forget all that had happened. Not only unjust blame, rankling humiliation, threatened banishment from the work she loved. Under everything else, the sense of betrayal by one trusted, the discovery of weakness in what she had taken for strength.” She tells him she won’t see him for two months, and trundles off during a hurricane to her roommate Sally Scott’s beach cottage, which is somewhere on Long Island, ten miles from Manhattan. It’s in a community of similar houses, all without electricity, though they do have running water, and she’s floundering around on the boardwalk in the blinding rain when she literally runs into—not the first time that’s happened!—Roger Kent, a former newspaper journalist who became disenchanted with the politics of his beat and, rather than get a new assignment, quit altogether and moved to the island to write a novel.

Most of the ensuing book is about her life on the island: Boating and fishing with Roger, lying on the beach, meeting the neighbors as they move in with the warming weather. It’s an idyllic life, and enjoyable to watch, but apart from bandaging an occasional burned finger or packing a hot appendix off to the hospital, there’s not much nursing. Eventually Roger declares his love for her, but Joyce is waiting for her feelings for Warren to reveal themselves. Interestingly, she acknowledges that mainly what she feels for him is lust: “Honestly she faced the fact that he, more than any other man, had stirred her senses. Contact as a nurse with the darker by-products of sex could not destroy its glamor and glory. One did learn, however, to apply perspective to passion.” Which she seems unable to do. When Warren does turn up, “safety—Warren’s safety—seemed to remain his first thought!” She smooches him anyway, but when he sort-of proposes—he asks her to wear his fraternity pin, how adorable!—she says she needs more time to think. He’ll be spending that time in Bar Harbor, where he has to go to care for a “sick patient,” which we of course can see right through.

It’s a classic VNRN plot that we saw coming from early on, and though Joyce is a smart, determined, sassy, intelligent, hard-working young woman, she cannot foresee how this is going to play out until the engagement announcement is printed in the Times. I do wish Joyce had figured out her feelings on her own, because it’s not really growth if everything is thrust upon you. I liked Roger, who kept telling her that “even in love one has one’s soul to keep, that when love demanded the constant sacrifice of integrity it was more than the traffic would bear.” He, unlike Warren—who has told her that her destroyed career doesn’t matter, since she’d be chucking it anyway when they got married!—has assumed she will continue nursing, because “you can’t stop being yourself just because we’re in love.” The writing has a poetic feel to it, particularly in passages describing the ocean and the beach, and numerous references to poets and writers including Emerson, Kipling, Keats, da Vinci, George Bernard Shaw, and a sprinkling of ancient Greeks and Biblical references. Marshall’s hometown of Kingston, NH, makes a cameo, here and in her other books, as Belltown, along with nearby Campton (née Hampton) Beach and Axter (Exeter)—which you may not care about, but I do, since I’m from the New Hampshire Seacoast, and I share Mooers’ pride in the beauty of her home state. I’m disappointed that this book did not live up to Marshall’s best works (Nurse into Woman and Wilderness Nurse, both A-grade books), but I’ll repeat that it’s easily worth spending an afternoon on the beach with this book.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Strange Quest of Nurse Anne

By Mary Burchell, ©1964
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik 

To Anne Weston, brought up in an orphanage, the sudden discovery of her American cousins was as astounding as it was wonderful, and when they invited her to stay with them in their Maryland home her cup of happiness was full. But as her visit went on, Anne found herself becoming filled with suspicion—and unease…

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“Rumor flourishes more luxuriantly in hospital ground than in any other known soil.”

“Surgeons are the biggest menace in creation to susceptible girls.”

“Only dull dogs are universally loved.”

“It has changed a good deal, New York, in the years I’ve known it, and certainly not always for the better. But there’s something about it, there’s something about it. There’s champagne in the air and adventure just around the corner.”

“If anything is obscure or dreary it’s sure of excellent reviews.”

“There’s no great virtue in refraining from doing something that’s no temptation.”

REVIEW:
What could have been a truly superlative book is slightly dampened by the old trope of a VNRN heroine who is dumber than a beetle, as my grandmother would have said. Time and time again, faced with the obvious, Anne Weston, who had the brains to get through nursing school and emerge a very talented nurse, is unable to recognize it. The interesting thing here is that her character in some ways makes this stupidity feasible: Raised in an orphanage without any knowledge about her parents, Anne has had no support or family to fall back on, and has made her own way in the world, which was essentially to take a path straight from the orphanage to the hospital nursing school, where she has lived for the past three years—from one sheltered environment to another, with little exposure to the world. The unfortunate part is that author Mary Burchell has not been able to prevent us from feeling anything other than contempt for Anne’s stupidity. Though her talent as a writer is clearly evident, I wish Ms. Burchell had tried a little harder to sell us on Anne’s blind spots and make us believe her decisions a little better.

As the book opens, Anne is about to bid farewell forever to the hospital and surgeon Philip Coram, on whom she’s had a slight crush, but of course, “he could hardly have been more impersonal and was sometimes cruelly critical.” But on her way out the door, he stops her and tells her she’s one of the best nurses he’s known, asks her what her plans are—and, curiously, what her name is—and when she says she’s going into private nursing, he says he’ll ask for her for his patients.

He calls her for the job of wrestling wealthy and self-centered widowed dowager Mrs. van Elten across the ocean to New York, and it’s worth reading this book just to meet Mrs. van Elten. She’s a salty, outspoken, smart, hilarious, manipulative, and kindly grande dame, and she is Fabulous! Then, just as she’s to leave for the trip, Anne receives a letter from a long-lost cousin, Paula Weston, who has somehow tracked her down, following up the efforts of Anne’s father Donald, who had moved to Australia and died a year ago without ever locating Anne. Paula and her brother Glen live in Maryland and are eager to meet their new cousin, who now will be not as far from them when she finishes her job with Mrs. van Elten. But Anne’s best friend Karen, who “had what she called hunches,” is uneasy about the whole thing, and Anne herself catches a “deep and ominous chill” as the boat pulls out of the Southampton harbor en route for the New World. She’s warmed to the core a few minutes later, though, when she learns that Dr. Coram is sailing on the same boat, bound for medical conferences in New York!

Needless to say, Mrs. van Elton instantly divines Anne’s interest in Dr. Coram, and starts to work on the pair. “I find people intensely interesting,” she tells Anne. “My daughter says I can’t mind my own business about them. But I like to advise and praise and criticize. Particularly to criticize.” Though Mrs. van Elton warns Anne that Dr. Coram is engaged, she still schools Anne on what color dress to wear and insists that Anne stay at the dances after she herself has turned in, the better to dance with the doctor. Anne’s relationship with Dr. Coram grows organically, and soon they’re on the Lido Deck under the stars, but Anne remembers the fiancée at home and becomes chilly just when things start to heat up. After they land in New York, Dr. Coram goes way beyond the call of duty to drive Anne the five hours from New York to her cousins’ house, which is a decaying former country estate; as it turns out, the cousins’ father had gambled away most of the family fortune and they are barely able to keep the place.

Cousin Glen is a smarmy sort of fellow, and his “almost beautiful smile never touched his handsome eyes, which remained hard and curiously inscrutable.” He’s instantly all over Anne, insisting that she marry him, and tells her that Dr. Coram, who had grown up in the area, had “played fast and loose with one or two girls in Washington, it seems, and he got quite a bad name in a set where it takes really something to make people talk.” This runs completely counter to everything Anne knows about Dr. Coram, but she starts to feel less about him, the dope, when it’s completely clear what’s Glen is really up to. There are many other obvious warnings about the cousins’ ulterior motives: A letter written by Anne’s father has been “accidentally” destroyed, and—curse the postal system!—so has another letter sent to her in care of her cousins from a Sydney attorney who, Karen says, is looking for Anne to give her good news about her father’s estate. Then Anne meets the old, slightly senile man who had been a groom on the estate for 50 years, who tells her that her father was rich and that the cousins are trying to get her money. Does the penny drop? No!

When Dr. Coram arrives to bring her back to New York two days later, Anne is completely rude to him, all but slamming the door in his face, and thanks for the ride, bub. The author suggests that Anne is so enthralled with the idea of having a family at last—“it gives one a sort of confidence and security to find a place and a family where one belongs,” she tells Dr. Coram—and Anne genuinely likes Paula, who deserves it, and Glen, who does not—which sets her up to believe what is an obvious ploy to get Dr. Coram out of the picture. And then she’s deeply flattered to be the object of affection for the first time in her life: “It was so utterly wonderful to feel that someone—perhaps, above all, her big, handsome warm-hearted cousin—thought her all-important.” So it is possible, given Anne’s background, that she could be this stupid—but it’s not well-sold to the readers, who can’t help wanting to give Anne a hard shake.

But then Mrs. van Elten drops a bomb—the fiancée is just a myth she’d created to keep Anne from running after Dr. Coram, thinking that “if he were made to do the running, you were just the right girl for him,” as she explains. Fortunately, Anne has the strength of character to call up the abused doctor and apologize profusely, and the pair are restored to friendly terms. But then Mrs. van Elten goes to Florida, freeing Anne to go back to her cousins’ house, and there our suspicions of them pile up—until finally even Anne can’t deny that something terrible is afoot, and when she sneaks out of the house to visit the old retired groom again, he suggests that the cousins might kill her for the money! Finally coming to her senses, she puts on a happy face, makes a frantic call to Dr. Coram to come get her tomorrow, and goes to her bedroom to lock herself in, but the key to her bedroom door has been taken! She stuffs her money in her dress, jumps out the bathroom window, and runs away—but Glen is coming after her in the car! Oh, no!! What will happen next?!?

Overall, this is a lovely book, with a truly outstanding character in Mrs. van Elten (she reminded me of Lady Travitt in Nurse Stacey Comes Aboard, though that book does not come close to this one) and a relationship between the lovers that grows honestly. Its biggest flaw is the fact that Anne is such a dunce about people, and the tragedy is that I think that an author who has given us a book this good could, with a bit more effort, have made Anne’s gullibility more understandable, so we might have wanted to smack Anne upside the head fewer than the two dozen times I did—especially at the end, when she makes a bizarre decision about the money she’s inherited. The title and the cover illustration are both more than a little perplexing, but we can’t pin those sins on Mary Burchell, who likely had nothing to do with either. But overlook the strange envelope, and you will enjoy what you find inside it, if your evil cousins don’t destroy it first.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Pam Green Rehabilitation Nurse

By Patti Carr
(pseud. of William Neubauer), ©1966
Cover illustration by Bob Abbett 

Pam Green was one of Buttrick Hospital’s best nurses—capable, dependable, the perfect choice for out-patient works at the rehabilitation center. But the day Pam’s romance with Dr. Sam Flint came to an abrupt end marked the beginning of some startling changes in the beautiful brunette’s life—the most startling being Joe Budd, the ruggedly handsome and notorious labor leader. Everyone warned him against him, but he made the perfect rebound date. After all, she could not possibly fall for a man who offered everything but love. Or could she? It was absurd ... but suddenly her idea of fun on the rebound had turned into a dangerous game that she had to keep playing, a game that threatened to destroy the career she had planned for a lifetime.

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“The dress lent her a nice primness, and primness was a useful armor when you were not sure of a fellow you’d picked up in the first place.”

“Overlook the bad temper, please. I guess it’s this dress. I hate prim and prissy girls, I really do.” 

“Like all nurses, I’m starving.”

“Ginny here is the daughter of the Haskins who’s one of the governors of Buttrick, Pam. Very posh family, tons of money, blood so blue you could use it for ink. If from time to time she snubs you, you’ll understand why.”

“Pam found her arm being taken companionably, and the hand gripping that arm piloted her quite expertly through a nonexistent lobby crowd, through a quite negotiable doorway, and into a Marine Room that was neither dark nor boobytrapped with obstacles.”

“I think women ought to make themselves useful. They’re particularly lovely when they’re doing womanly things at table.”

“The longer I live, the more I thank God for creating these comical characters we call men. They always talk with such authority you have to believe they really think they are authorities. That’s the funniest thing of all.”

“I find women potent medicine.”

REVIEW:
Pam Green works at Buttrick Hospital in Hardin City, California, the same location for Patti Carr’s book TV Nurse—but I was disappointed to find out that the star of TV Nurse does not appear in this book, and Pam Green has no cameo in TV Nurse, either, which seemed like a lost opportunity for Ms. Carr. But anyway, Pam’s just been transferred out of Ward P, a rehab floor, to a department that seems to be case management for outpatients. Pam is assigned to a case, Miss Coolidge, who had been in a car crash and had to have both legs amputated—as well as her first name, it seems, since she never has one in this book. When Pam meets her, Miss Coolidge is in jail for panhandling, and though Pam gets her sprung, Miss Coolidge vows to go back to her former corner and resume her efforts. When Pam points out it’s not exactly a career with great upward mobility, Miss Coolidge retorts that she is unable to get a traditional job, since no one will hire a double amputee in a wheelchair. “There’s no law, you know, that says a business establishment must hide its handicapped people in the offices or stockrooms. We all do, however,” says the department store manager who refused to take Miss Coolidge back after her accident. “Ask us to hire a handicapped person, and the first thing we worry about is how it’ll look to our customers. Hide the horrible face or horrible lump on the back or the twisted legs or arms or even the emptiness where legs or arms should be.” This book was obviously written before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which only came into effect in the shockingly recent 1990). 

In her new role as a nurse-cum-social worker, Pam gets Miss Coolidge an apartment and a job working for the labor leader called by many “a Neanderthal goon,” Joe Budd, who is everything a union boss is painted up to be, with an expensive-looking cigar, diamonds in his cuff links, and the build of a guy who’s whacked a few slobs on his relentless climb to the top. Somehow, though, when the big lug tears up over a firefighter who has lost the use of an arm while on the job, she feels that he’s more than his stereotype.

She’s not so sure about the man she’s actually dating, Dr. Sam Flint, who “would not remove a cataract from his own mother’s eye unless she paid him a whopping fee.” And he’s not even that great a doctor, albeit a good-looking one. Sam has just made the acquaintance of Sally Banes, of the Baneses, and is impressed by her “money, plus beauty and intelligence,” he lists in order of importance. When Sally drops in on one of their dates to invite them to a party, Sam goes, and Pam goes home—to call Joe and ask him to dinner. There Joe convinces her to go to an amusement park with him, which wasn’t too hard a sell, because “as it happened, in those emerald green eyes there was an interesting challenge that she couldn’t resist.”

Eventually, though, Pam learns that Joe’s job for Miss Coolidge is not meant to be permanent, because her position allows her to learn a lot of information about how he runs the union, and this might endanger his power. She confronts him, he admits it, and she stops seeing him. Meanwhile, poor little rich girl Sally Banes has fallen in love with Sam Flint—who’d lost it when she called the mansion he’d worked so hard to buy a “cottage,” and now they’re not seeing each other, either. Sally is looking pretty raw about it, and in trying to clean up her life she asks her father to hire handicapped people, starting with Miss Coolidge, and he agrees. Sally’s beneficence goes too far, though, when she asks Miss Coolidge to come to dinner at her house, and Sally’s father says something rude, and Miss Coolidge chews him out, and Mr. Barnes fires her again. Miss Coolidge, on her way out the door, tells Sally that “it was no wonder to her that nobody who amounted to anything in Hardin City wanted Sally Banes around.”

Sally responds to this mess by slashing her wrists, which naturally brings Sam to his senses, and he tells Pam he’s going to marry Sally. He also tells Pam that her zeal for Miss Coolidge is misplaced, because Miss Coolidge is unemployable. “People can’t have everything on their own terms,” he tells her. “You have to learn to put up with things you don’t like. You need self-discipline. She lacks it.” And Pam has to admit he’s right. So the next day she goes to Miss Coolidge’s apartment to pack her up and deliver her to a “home for unemployables” run by the state of California. Pam’s parting gift, before she peels out of the driveway, is a lecture about how many people tried to help her, “And all for what? You can’t be helped, Miss Coolidge, until you help yourself.” It turns out, though, that Miss Coolidge is only to be kept there for three months, which she doesn’t know, and Sally Banes is footing the bill. Joe Budd learns a lesson, too, and decides that his ambition isn’t worth what it costs him, particularly when he has a pretty good setup where he’s at. And Pam also decides that social work isn’t for her, but maybe Joe is, after all.

Patti Carr is a very perplexing author. Her other two works (TV Nurse and A Nurse to Marry) earned her a C- and a D+ respectively. But here we have a fairly charming, brisk, interesting, witty novel that easily snagged a top mark. Pam is smart, strong, independent, and hard-working, and the supporting characters are not completely dull, either. Its theme is also intriguing: Miss Coolidge ultimately wasn’t a failure because of her handicap, but because of her attitude. And it’s certainly rare to meet a character in a VNRN who doesn’t turn over a new leaf when assisted by the hands of the capable RN in the end, though it must be admitted that her eventual success is hinted at, even if we don’t get to witness it. This book bears more than a passing similarity to the writing of William Neubauer, between the union boss with a heart of gold, the machinations of hospital politics that have Pam transferred all over the hospital, the scheming mind of Pam herself, and the witty writing: “‘I love your dress, Pam,’ Sally said. Pam wanted to burn the dress on the spot.” I have wondered over the years if a VNRN was not actually written by the person whose name is on the cover, and this one does make me scratch my head, because not only is it the only book of Patti Carr’s worth reading, it’s also head and shoulders above most other VNRNs.

NOTE: After writing this review, I discovered that Patti Carr is actually a pen name of William Neuabuer, so my hunch proved accurate. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Guardian Nurse

By Joyce Dingwell, ©1970
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Burn West had engaged Frances to look after seven-year-old Jason West in the joint capacity of nurse, governess—and guard. But why should the child need to be guarded? Just what was going on?

GRADE: B+ 

REVIEW:
When Frances Peters first meets her new employer, Burn West (Burn is short for Burnley), she does not think much of him. “The mouth suggested arrogance, she thought, and the eyes were cold. … She found she really disliked this man.” Well, we savvy VNRN readers recognize this as a sure sign that he’ll be playing a starring role on the last page, but we’ll play along for now. Burn runs a very large farm in the Australian outback alongside the Murrumbidgee River in the Mirramunna district, if you are familiar with Australian geography, and having decamped the group there, Burn insists that Frances is never, ever! to leave seven-year-old Jason alone. She is also to ask no questions about Jason, Burn, or anything at all relating to the family she is joining. She valiantly agrees to this ridiculous stipulation, as absurd as it isdo we really think a seven-year-old is never going to discuss his past? (In this magical land, of course, he doesn’t, outside of telling her he has lived in Switzerland and France, which she does not believe.)

Little Jason West has suffered a severe leg fracture, but she is not told how this happened. He is “unfriendly, unco-operative, apparently without any enthusiasm,” when he meets Frances, constantly shouting, “No!” He is scarcely more affectionate with Burn, whom Frances assumes is his father—you know what they say about assuming, but of course she cant just ask! Jason needs a doctor, and wouldn’t you know it, this turns out to be Dr. Scott Weir, a long-lost sort-of ex-beau of Frances’. They’d been friendly in the nursing home where they’d both worked the previous year—but then he had abruptly transferred to another practice and never said goodbye, so she’d taken her broken heart into community nursing in the city, which was how she’d come to be hired by the Wests.

On the ranch, as Frances and Scott take up where they had left off, Burn is gradually defrosting, and Jason also coming out of his shell—figuratively and literally, as eventually the cast comes off—and he is soon running all over the ranch, or else catching up on his schooling with Frances as teacher. As Frances slowly warms up little Jason’s heart, gradually bits of the mystery are dropped into the plot. We learn that Jason is in danger of being “taken away … by his mother’s side,” Burn tells her, after one of several episodes in which Frances takes her eye off her charge for a few minutes and the pesky little blighter disappears. Frances meets a man coming out of the driveway of the ranch next door and assumes it is the owner, Trev Trent—but then Trev turns up and he’s not that man, so who is he!?! She also sees a young woman in a blue car on multiple occasions, the woman apparently watching them. Jenny, the physical therapist they engage, keeps harping on water therapy for Jason, but when Burn installs a pool, she won’t take Jason into it, or go anywhere near it herself, and it’s Frances who teaches Jason to swim. It turns out that Jenny knows the man whom Frances thought was Trev, but what is their connection? Of course, she cant possibly do the obvious—discuss these concerns with Burn—though she considers it repeatedly, and rejects repeatedly. Argh!

Of course, in true VNRN fashion, the only way out of this mess is to add a natural disaster—in this case, the routinely foreshadowed flood—and stir. Once all the mysteries and secrets are tidied away with the high water, we can close the book, but here we can let it go with at least a small, pleased smile.

Guardian Nurse is not a book for witty writing—I could shake out nothing for the Best Quotes section—but it is a good story. It unwinds slowly and gently, and most importantly, believably. We don’t like Burn much to start, but he improves in our estimation naturally, and in the end actually is a better person, unlike those books where we are presented with a pig’s ear and told he’s a rose. It’s true that the main folds in the plot are predictable and typical, but nonetheless this book is a pleasant and enjoyable, and worth reading.