Friday, August 20, 2010

Cruise Ship Nurse

By Michelle Josephs, ©1969

A too recent tragedy made it impossible for Ellen Hayden to continue her nursing career in a midwestern hospital. She sought escape in the adventurous life of a cruise ship nurse. But she had not counted on the volatile relationship of two men, a doctor and an officer, who had fallen in love with her. She never thought she would be led into a situation so ugly and destructive that her future was threatened.


I have in the recent past doubted the prospects of a book because its cover illustration was not great. I was proved completely wrong, and so forced to acknowledge the truth of the old adage about judging a book. Cruise Ship Nurse, however, has made me re-think that position. The cover of Surf Safari Nurse, while not living up to its endless potential, is detailed, and suggests that someone gave it some thought. The cover of Cruise Ship Nurse, on the other hand, feels perfunctory and dashed off—and so does the text within.

Ellen Hayden leaves Lincoln, Nebraska, to take a job on a cruise ship based out of New York. At the job interview, she meets Michael Carter. “I’m the reservation manager here but my secret duty is to make sure old Harmon hires pretty young things,” he tells her. (That made my skin crawl, but she dated him a few times before setting sail anyway.) Once on board, when not working like a dog for stern, hard-driving Dr. Roberto Gazza, she starts dating Tonio Grimaldi, a molto suave steward on the ship. But when the good doctor, who has hitherto shown her no interest whatsoever, hears about this, he immediately puts the moves on her, and the two Italians begin competing for her affections. “Life was never so complicated in Nebraska,” she tells her friend and co-worker Betty. (Actually, Ellen says this on two separate occasions, which suggested to me that the author and editor were asleep at the wheel.) There’s a smuggling subplot with Ellen marked as the unsuspecting mule, several searches of her person and cabin, jail, and a trial. And, of course, a wedding at the end.

The story trots along at a decent pace, but it feels like the author is cruising on autopilot. While there is initially some question about whom the smuggler is, that lasts all of ten minutes before we are given his identity, so that small excitement is quickly snuffed out. Even when the plot theoretically heats up, I felt like a dispassionate observer. Ellen is frequently described as feeling numb; if the protagonist has no feeling about what is happening to her, how am I supposed to?

I actually had some hope that this book might at least slightly redeem itself by allowing its protagonist an international affair. No such luck: One man is the crook and the other already has a lover in New York. “You’re the best cure I know for Latin-love-itis,” she tells the white boy, her blandest and only remaining romantic option.

The book contains many typographical errors (note the missing comma (after here) in skeevy Mr. Carter’s above quote). This may not matter to the vast majority of Americans, but as a former copy editor and daughter of a linguist, I must confess that my dinner out has been significantly marred by restaurant “special’s.” So between the lame cover, uninspired writing, and lackadaisical proofreading, I got the impression that no one involved in the production of this book cared a whit about it. Guess what—you’re not going to, either.

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