Saturday, January 29, 2011

Journey for a Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1966

Roberta Sterling, R.N., looked forward to her new job with mixed feelings. As the private nurse of the wealthy, aged Clayton Prescott, she would travel to California. When she arrived there she became involved—almost against her will—with two romantic young men who vied for her affections: her employer’s handsome chauffeur and the old man’s rakish son. But, back home, there was another who lay claim to her heart. And Roberta could never forget him. Then, in a whirlwind of dramatic events that left her breathless—Roberta reached the decision that brought her the greatest happiness she’d ever known.


“She felt a loyalty to her patient, although he was now dead.”

I’m hard pressed to imagine what made author Arlene Hale decide it was a good idea to write about a road trip with four cranky people from the upper Midwest to California in which they seldom pull over or see any sights whatsoever. But there you have it, the backbone of Journey for a Nurse in a nutshell.

Well, I’m being a little unfair. There are the interpersonal relationships to explore—cantankerous millionaire, Clayton Prescott, now confined to a wheelchair and near death, is either driving everyone mercilessly or sleeping; Claud, the chauffeur, hates everyone except nurse Roberta Sterling, whom he wants to marry apparently based on little else than her appearance; secretary Elsa has little to say except, “Yes, sir”; and nurse Bobbie tries to get Clayton to swallow his pills and go to sleep in between fending off passes from Claud. You can see this is not going to be the most riveting vintage nurse romance novel on the shelf.

Bobbie “was 25 and not getting any younger,” hanging out with perennial good-time boy Joey Russell, who after years of dating has not asked her to marry him. So she accepts a job to accompany Clayton to San Diego by car to see his daughter, Nadine, before he dies. Bobbie’s chief qualification for the job, it seems, is her looks: “You’re pretty. I like that,” Clayton tells her. “As long as a man has to be sick, he might as well have a pretty nurse to take care of him than an ugly one.”

Clayton also has a son, Elliott, and there appears to be some bad blood between Elliott and Claud, and the hints about this are dropped as subtly as neon signs along the way. Eventually we learn that Claud’s sister, Jan, had been going with Elliott, and they were in a car accident and she was killed. Elliott is supposed to be in Europe, but somehow he tracks them down in his zippy sports car at their hotel in the Arizona desert—hard to imagine how he could have done so, since no one has been in touch with him to tell him where they are. He and Claud instantly start hissing at each other, and it’s clear there’s going to be a showdown at some point.

Curiously, during a couple of chapters the narrative voice switches from Bobbie to Claud, though this enables us to learn exactly nothing more about his character, apart from the fact that he’s really bad at seducing girls and “seething … because of Jan and what had happened to her.” Despite his dark moods, Bobbie tries to talk herself into falling for Claud, mostly just to forget about Joey: “There was much to admire about him. He handled the car well. He was very much aware of his position and he never stepped out of line.” Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of attractive qualities, good driving and obeying the boss are not at the top of my list.

Were women ever treated as disturbingly as every young man who runs in to Bobbie treats her? About the first thing Elliott says to her when they meet is, “Oh, don’t go, nurse. You’re the best part of this setup that I’ve seen so far.” He “reached out and wrapped a finger around a lock of her hair” on several occasions, though they are practically strangers. Claud approves of her not walking out after dark alone, he tells her, because “I’d be tempted to abduct you and run away with you, myself!” This sort of creepy aggressiveness toward women occurs frequently in VNRNs, and instead of being completely repulsed by it, our heroines either let it pass unremarked or, occasionally, are flattered by it. Let’s hope this was more fiction than real-life in the 1960s, but if even a hint of it is true, let us all pause for a moment and give profound and fervent thanks for women’s lib.

The medicine in this book is as outdated as its objectification of women. The reason Clayton can’t fly to California is that “air travel was out because of his heart”—instead he has to spend a week driving 2,500 miles, because this will be so much less stressful. When his heart does start acting up, the cardiologist diagnoses his problem by saying that his heart is “acting sort of cute.” And Bobbie tells someone to make a pot of coffee during a moment of crisis because “it helps settle the nerves.” You’d think if you made a living writing these books, you might take ten minutes to bone up on a few basic medical facts.

This book has no imagination, no sparkle, and no appeal. The best thing about it is the cover, so once you’ve looked that over, toss this book aside and move on to something else.

This is another cover for the same book. Illustration by Lou Marchetti.

No comments:

Post a Comment