Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nurse in Nassau

By Rose Williams
(pseud. William Daniel Ross), ©1967 

His past caught up with the man she loved … “Beth,” he told her, “I’m engaged to another girl—back home.” New York was suddenly bleak and wintry to Nurse Beth Kane. She had to escape. Was Nassau, the semitropic island of beauty and serenity, just a refuge for her bruised heart—or was it more? Was Neil Callum, the famous playwright, just her patient—or something more? How would she choose—between her profession and her heart? 


“I asked him what he thought about Hollywood marriage, and he said it was a good way to spend a weekend.” 

“Not even the ice cubes here are up to par.” 

“The two times when love is most highly valued are during the days of courting and when the settlement is reached in court.” 

“A little more talk like that, junior, and you’ll be free and paying me for my wasted years.” 

“That lovely body should never be wasted in a nurse’s uniform.”

It’s winter in New York, and one of Nurse Beth Kane’s patients is successful actor and playwright Neil Callum, hospitalized for a broken leg after he fell down the icy steps of a friend’s house on East 64th Street. He is always saying charmingly cantankerous things like, “You should be an actress. You’re pretty enough and apparently without any common sense as well. An infallible combination.” 

He’s supposed to be wintering in the Bahamas, at the hotel he owns in Nassau, but of course this darned leg is keeping him penned up in frosty Manhattan. He’ll be discharged in a week, however, and he wants Beth, the prettiest nurse on the staff, to go with him to manage his recuperation. Conveniently, Beth’s boyfriend, Dr. Jim, drops the bombshell over a dinner date that he’s engaged to a secretary back home, which he just forgot to mention up till now, and that he just got a letter from her for the first time in a year. Turns out she’s been locked away in a tuberculosis sanatorium, and he feels compelled to rush back to her side. So Beth is a free woman. Now if only she could afford a trip to Nassau … enter the registered letter from an attorney’s office on 38th Street. One of her patients, who died a year ago, has left her $10,000. It’s not at all clear why she needs this inheritance to make the trip, since Neil is paying her way and a salary, and has offered to allow her to stay on at his hotel at a reduced rate when he’s well. But we have to find some way to fill the pages, and now she can discuss investments with her friends and date the attorney who gave her the check. 

Despite the back cover blurb, in Nassau Beth really has little to do with Neil, who insists right away that he can manage everything on his own, and he is never a serious contender for her affections. So she’s left to party with Dr. Steve Craig, who works too much at the local hospital for her to consider him a serious romantic possibility though he is a divine dancer, and Karl Main, a talented pianist with a serious personality disorder. The second time she meets Karl, he tells her that she had “better let any interested parties know that you’re in love with me.” If he’s not telling her how charming he is, he’s running down his job, the “dump” where he works, and even himself—he warns her he is a rogue “without principle.” He drives way too fast and is frequently in “one of his bitter moods.” Beth worries about him, thinking, “he had an inner desire to destroy his life.” And she goes out with him whenever he calls, although “she couldn’t exactly explain why.” 

Beth eventually becomes friends with Karl’s ex-fiancée Diana Wilson when the two women, Dr. Steve, and Karl hustle off to Iguana Island to help stem an epidemic of St. Louis encephalitis there. Diana is broken-hearted over her breakup with Karl, and has quit drinking in an effort to win him back. Minutes after advising Diana that if she talks to Karl they may be able to patch things up, Beth ponders whether she should marry Karl herself, the two-faced bitch. Though she has never expressed any sort of love for Karl, just “fondness and pity,” she “still wasn’t certain whether it was Karl or Steve who held the key to her heart.” She thinks that perhaps she could give Karl “a calm guiding hand” to help him make the most of his talents, which will surely make for a lasting and successful marriage. In the remaining 15 pages, she saves Diana from a coma by digging deep into her years of training as a nurse and screaming until help comes, returns to her job at the hospital in New York, and out of the clear blue “realized now how much she loved” the young fella who turns up on her doorstep, vowing to change his ways. Bleah. 

The writing is strangely bipolar. We frequently receive humorous quips from Neil with virtually every utterance that drops from his lips, yet the prose outside the quotation marks is fairly leaden; it’s almost as if author Dan Ross, here writing as Rose Dana, got a little help with his lines. (And I couldn’t help but notice that one of Beth’s patients is referred to as “the dark girl” exactly 13 times in the 14 pages on which she appears, making me wonder just what was up with that.) The author loves Manhattan and is constantly giving us locations for the action, such as “Beth Kane came up the steps from the subway station at Seventh Avenue and Fiftieth Street,” “her tiny third floor apartment only a couple of blocks from Washington Square,” “Andy’s was a small restaurant on 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.” We certainly spend a lot of time there for a book ostensibly about a nurse in Nassau, and it’s enjoyable enough to follow Beth around the city. But once she gets to the Bahamas, her fretting over Karl is just perplexing, considering what an unstable ass he is, and the story falls off a cliff. If you love New York yourself, that might give you reason to read this book, but otherwise, either avoid it completely or just put it down once the big white cruise ship leaves the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline passes over horizon.

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