Sunday, June 12, 2011

Condemned Nurse

By Jane Converse
(pseud. of Adele Kay Maritano), ©1971
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

“I’m going to have fun!” Donna announced, her defiant words blurred by the bourbon she was downing. “That’s why I quit my job. I’m going to live a little!” Jackie looked at her pale, disheveled roommate who was renouncing her career, reviling the doctor who loved her, and drinking herself into a stupor. “Why?” she wondered, “why?” Too soon, Jackie would learn Donna’s dark secret—a secret Jackie could not share with anyone, must not even hint to Donna that she knew—a secret that, in the end, might destroy Jackie too.


“He knew I wasn’t going to meet any eligible young interns, cooped up in his office.”

“If he keeps up with that silly Victorian attitude about not wanting a wife to support him, and he’s not about to take on a big responsibility like marriage until he’s financially secure, blablabla, etcetera—if he keeps that up, you can either decide that he’s stalling and doesn’t want to marry you, or else he’s such an out-dated, pride-filled stuffed shirt that you’d be lucky to escape getting permanently involved with him.”

“Last night she was gulping cocktails as though she were in a contest sponsored by refugees from Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“Becoming Mrs. Travis would be the best possible thing that could happen to Donna.”

Jackie Dellinger is a nurse at Overton Memorial Hospital in Overton, Michigan. She’s dating the perennially harassed resident Steve Sayres, who barely has time to see her one night a week, and who is routinely described as having gone 36 hours with only three hours’ sleep. Her roommate, Donna Silsbee, is a “conscientious surgical machine” in the OR and a “madcap blond bundle of laughs” outside it. Donna is dating surgeon George Travis, who is a widower. She’s had a tragic childhood, passed from foster home to foster home, where she was all but chained to the furnace, which has made her a bit skittish about accepting George’s marriage proposal.

When the book opens, everyone is commenting on Donna’s appearance. She’s been overly tired lately, and pale, and after she faints one evening, Jackie suggests that Donna see her old chum, Dr. Gaynor, for a checkup. A week later, and now it’s Donna’s behavior everyone is commenting on, how she’s carrying on “like she wanted to cram in every kick imaginable,” how she is displaying a “hysterical determination to have fun, fun, fun.” Gosh, I wonder what the old doc had to say? Jackie goes to visit the doctor, and snoops in Donna’s file, discovering that Donna has leukemia, with six months to live. But she can’t tell anyone, and Donna is carrying on a farce that it’s not the hospital she’s visiting, but friends in northern Michigan; she brings her tennis racket with her to get blood transfusions.

Now the plot takes an unexpected turn, as Jackie, lured into having dinner with an acquaintance of Donna’s who seems nice enough. Out on the town, Dan feeds her two bottles of champagne and lures her back to his apartment. There, three thugs leap out of the closet, bash Dan unconscious, tear her dress off, throw her down next to him, and photograph them in an apparently compromising position on the living room floor. It turns out he’s getting a divorce from a woman who wants more alimony. Dan says he is poor, but he drives a Ferrari and lives in a penthouse, which Jackie had been too naïve, or drunk, to notice. The next day, she meets with the soon-to-be ex-wife and pleads for the photos to be destroyed, but the cheesy platinum-bleached blonde just laughs. “You don’t deserve to live,” Jackie spits out as she storms out. And the poor old tramp turns up dead the next day!

This book is quite similar to another story of Jane Converse’s, Nurse in Crisis, but not as inspired. Jane’s usual humor and descriptive writing are largely missing here. The whole detour of Jackie falling under suspicion of murder seems a bit contrived, and it’s a plot twist Jane has given us before (see Nurse on Trial). But even with this device to ostensibly liven things up, it’s a fairly straightforward plod through to the end, when everyone is neatly disposed of, either by marriage or by death.

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