Monday, August 15, 2011

Jet Set Nurse

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1970
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

They were island hopping, flitting from one tropical paradise to another … laughing readily, drinking steadily—wealthy heiress Marlaine Hayden, her fifth husband, Noah, her financier cousin, Durward, and an entourage of hangers-on. Why did they add Nurse Roxy Ferris, blue-eyed, beautiful and disapproving, to their glittering, glamorous caravan? Someone had to watch over Marlaine’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Gee Gee, a gorgeous child, really, with a genius I.Q. but with a personality her private-school principal had called sick … “very sick.” Gee Gee’s was a rare malady, an infection destined to endanger them all!


“I shouldn’t even consider ending my blessed bachelorhood with a girl who can’t mix a decent martini.”

“Another ring on her parched hands would have tilted her to starboard.”

Wealthy Wall Street financier Durwood Kingsley is recovering from a heart attack under the care of Nurse Roxy Ferris. He’s also attempting to persuade her to marry him, but she won’t. For starters, she’s decided that she will never marry a man who doesn’t “share my interest in medicine.” (You can bet she doesn’t mean an orderly.) Furthermore, like many a VNRN heroine, she is recovering from a broken heart: Her previous fiancé, after the invitations had been mailed, decided he didn’t want to be married or a doctor and ran off to San Francisco to write poetry, study Zen Buddhism, and play the sitar.

In his efforts to persuade her that he can do something other than work, Durwood invites Roxy to accompany him and Marlaine, his newly married sister (this is her fifth husband), on a tour of the Caribbean by private jet. She will be needed to tend to Marlaine’s daughter, Gee Gee, who is 16 and, in Roxy’s words, a “weirdie”: She’s voluptuous, contemptuous of her mother, a genius, and plotting to ensnare her new stepfather, who she thinks is “masculine and sexy.” There’s also an entourage of pathetic rich people, including an astrologer, an aging tennis star, a French art film actress, a Russian prince, and a Colombian coffee magnate. And Dr. Noah Hayden, “Daddy Five,” as Gee Gee calls him. Roxy, upon clapping eyes on the medicine man, is instantly smitten, and spends a lot of time chastely wishing he weren’t married.

The travelers are soon identified as a party of lazy drunks hurtling from one entertainment to the next; Roxy and Noah are the only two who find this activity nauseating. Noah spends a lot of time “talking sense to Marlaine, pleading with her to stop drinking, to stop running, to end her shallow existence and begin living as the wife of a dependable, devoted physician.” It never works, and a few pages after these heart-to-hearts, she’s found screaming with wild laughter on the dance floor, clutching her fourth martini glass.

Before long, Roxy and Noah are strolling on a beach in Trinidad at sunset. Noah tells Roxy that his previous fiancée was discovered returning from a weekend away, not visiting her mother, but with an ex-boyfriend. He’d fled to Las Vegas, drunken too much, and woken up married to a virtual stranger. But he’s such a good guy, so devoted to the institution of marriage, that he decides he loves Marlaine and is determined to make a go of it. But his long walk with Roxy leads them both to realize “we sensed a rapport that had no right to exist.” I sure didn’t see that coming.

Most of the book is one party after another; Roxy psychoanalyzing Gee Gee (“No child could have emerged from her background unscarred … only a thoroughly miserable youngster would seek attention with destruction and hysteria.”); Noah shouting at his drunk wife, breaking her bar glasses, and punching would-be sycophants in the mouth; Gee Gee pitching hysterical rampages; and Noah suggesting that the best cure for her would be a lobotomy. Finally they decide on a cruise, a “quiet relaxation” with just the family—which, in addition to the Haydens, includes Durwood, Roxy, and eight of Marlaine’s dearest drinking buddies. One night Roxy wakes up in the night and finds Gee Gee missing from her bunk, and when the entire yacht rises to search for her, it is determined that Marlaine is also missing—and then Gee Gee turns up safe and sound in her bunk. It is soon determined that Marlaine has gone overboard in the night, and Gee Gee accuses Roxy of having murdered her in an attempt to win Noah for herself, but Roxy knows that Gee Gee is in fact the guilty party. In retrospect she realizes, too late, that it was a terrible mistake not to inform everyone about Gee Gee’s morbid obsession with the “ruthless genius” of Emperor Christophe, who suppressed the “crummy, expendable natives” of Haiti: “Can’t you almost smell blood and hear wild shrieks?” Gee Gee had asked Roxy in “enraptured fascination with horror.”

Roxy does eventually clear her name, but only by a chance stroke of luck, not through any actual intelligence on her part. The book doesn’t close on her in Noah’s arms but instead a year later, the two of them having endured an enforced separation, waiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass before the widowed Noah can see her again. This book is not one of Jane Converse’s best, without even much camp that she can usually do so well, and we certainly know she can do better (e.g. Surf Safari Nurse, Nurse in Crisis). I’m always a bit disappointed with books that purport to take you inside a glamorous world but then sneer at it, suggesting that we poor stiffs in dungarees are so much better off than wealthy people living on luxurious yachts or in staffed Caribbean villas. None of the sumptuousness of this lifestyle is given to us in this book, just drunken tirades and pathetic sycophants. It’s too easy to villainize a way of life you can’t have, and in the end it makes this book not very much fun.

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