Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nurse Marcie's Island

By Arlene Hale, ©1964
Cover illustration by Bob Schinella

Returning home to Barr Island to practice nursing, Marcie Roberts, R.N., dreamed happily of the sunny, lazy island, the joy of being with Pop again, and the pleasure of working as old Dr. John’s office nurse. But before the end of her first day, Marcie realized that everything had changed. Pop had become a strangely embittered man, and kindly Dr. John was gone. In his place, was the aloof Dr. Ainsworth—handsome, cold and brusque. Marcie knew her job represented a challenge to herself—as a nurse, and as a woman.


“He looks at me with those eyes and I feel like I’m under a microscope, like he’s probing and dissecting and everything else doctors do to some interesting little microbe!”


This book was published by Ace Books, which may now be my favorite publishing house, if only for the last page, which advertises other titles: “Hootenanny Nurse … He brought a new song to her heart. A Challenge for Nurse Melanie … Emergency of the heart.” The cover line on Nurse Marcie’s Island doesn’t disappoint: “Heart adrift on a sea of romance.” Of course, this means absolutely nothing, and in no way relates to anything in the book, but, along with the well done and unique cover illustration, it is certainly promising.

The story isn’t quite as good as its packaging, but it’s pretty good. Marcellina Roberts is returning to her home, Barr Island, after being away for nursing school. She moves in with her father and takes a job with old Dr. John Winthrop’s office. But it turns out that Dr. John is not there—he’s been taken to a hospital on the mainland for a bum gallbladder. Subbing for him is Dr. Logan Ainsworth, a cold, aloof man who demands punctuality and “personal neatness” but is nonetheless a good doctor, and she grudgingly comes to respect him, as he does her. But why did kindly old Dr. John choose Dr. Ainsworth to take his place? What is their relationship?

The old Barr mansion, which has been deserted for years, suddenly has a light on in the window. Julian Barr, “the undisputed king of her childhood and first love of her life,” is back—but he’s changed. He’s distant, cold, and no longer interested in his previous frivolous lifestyle. He was best friends with Marcie’s brother, Willie, whom their father has completely excised from his life because Willie did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a fisherman on the island. Willie hasn’t been heard from in years, but Julian never asks about him. “Which was odd,” Marcie thinks. “The two of them had been inseparable companions until Willie had rebelled against Pop and left the island.”

As far as the medicine in the book goes, the gallbladder case is a little disappointing in its inaccuracy. Dr. John, though experiencing biliary colic, is kept in the hospital for two weeks for some reason before being rushed into surgery when the gallbladder finally perforates. The surgery is explained as being very dangerous, and Dr. John’s chances of surviving the surgery are given as 50/50. Today the same operation is a completely routine day surgery, but according to my copy of Understanding Surgery, published in 1961, even at that time removal of the gallbladder was nowhere near this serious. So I was a little disappointed that the author didn’t bother with the ten minutes of research it would have taken to come up with something a little more realistic. The copy editors didn’t work too hard, either: If you look closely, you’ll find curious typos such as seeemd and gropped.

But the story moves briskly along, and both the characters and the townie vs. tourist atmosphere of the island are well-drawn. The characters actually evolve over the course of the story, which in itself sets this book apart from its peers. The story has a few questions that need to be resolved, and even if the answers are a little hackneyed, they play well. The final crisis seems a little drummed up, but it did actually make me a little verklempt (though not over the starring couple), a first for me with this genre. So on the whole, this book is easily worth the time it takes to read it.

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