Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nurse on the Beach

Arlene Hale, ©1967
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig

From where she stood on the dune below the beach house, Meg could see the young man coming toward her at a rapid jog. His obvious joy at seeing her filled her with gratitude. Suddenly her mind went reeling back to Whitefield Memorial Hospital and her heartbreak at finding Dr. Lee Corey in the arms of a wealthy and beautiful patient. What was she to do when the man she loved had betrayed her? There was only one refuge to seek, Meg thought, as she looked up at the young man now standing close beside her. But would she ever rid herself of the memory of Dr. Corey?


“Take my advice, Meg, don’t ever go out with a traveling salesman.”

“You know what I wish we were doing right this minute?”
“Necking,” he guessed with a grin.

“No smooching after eleven o’clock. House rules. Break it up.”

“Wylie bribed me for just five minutes in here this morning. I think he wanted to see how you looked first thing in the morning with no make-up. Most women look pretty horrible. Wylie couldn’t stand to have a wife like that. It would kill him.”

Our heroine’s name is Meg Ryan, which can be a bit discombobulating. But this Meg Ryan has red hair (the otherwise excellent cover art to the contrary) and a temper to match, which does get her into hot water. Such as when her boyfriend, Dr. Lee Corey, is too busy with patient Ardis Kingley, who happens to be “attractive, rich, and single.” She also happens to be the daughter of the most influential member of Whitefield Memorial Hospital’s board of directors. It seems that the job of director of the hospital is open, and Lee wants it. So when another patient is dying fast in his room, and Meg sends an urgent message for Lee to come at once, he can’t tear himself away, and the old man dies in pain in Meg’s arms without his physician in attendance. In response, Meg tears off her nurse’s pin, throws it at Dr. Corey’s feet, and storms out of the hospital.

To cool off, she moves into a beach house belonging to her guardian, where she runs into Wylie “Pappy” Burke, a beach bum whom she’d previously met—and kissed—and who has been relentlessly pursuing her ever since, calling her at home and showing up at the hospital cafeteria to see her. Perhaps it was his estimation of her measurements (“30-23-30”) at their first encounter that caught her eye. But it isn’t too hard to tell that the relationship between Lee and Meg is bound for the rocks; in a book called Nurse on the Beach, we learn early on that “Lee didn’t like the beach and he didn’t like picnics. Somehow, this kind of fun was childish to him.” And when Meg suggests they go down to the beach for a swim, he answers, “I’d rather be playing golf,” a suggestion that causes Meg to wrinkle her nose in distaste. (Ardis, on the other hand, “was known as an exceptional golfer.”)

When Lee invites Meg to a bar so he can explain, Meg walks in to find another nurse cupping his hands for a light for her cigarette, flees the joint in a blind fury, and promptly hits a truck with her car. Wylie (I just can’t bring myself to call him “Pappy”), who has followed Meg, brings her to his house to nurse her back to health after her concussion, chaperoned by his feisty “Grandm√®re.” Wylie, it turns out, is a painter of some renown, and he lives and works at the beach.

Lee soon tracks her down at Wylie’s beach house and tells her that he was not told that the old patient was dying, and that he has the hospital director job. All is well for a moment or two, but then Lee tells her to pack her things and come on home, and she refuses. “You’re my girl,” he says. “What you do reflects on me!” She answers, “And we must not have any reflection on the new director. Oh, dear—”

After they kiss and make up and Lee leaves, Wylie enters and she spends some time kissing him. So the next day, when she stops by the hospital and catches Ardis Kingley kissing Lee, she is completely understanding and thinks nothing of it. No, wait, that’s not what happened. “What kind of game was Lee playing?” she asks herself, and when she meets him in the caf minutes later, she nastily wipes the lipstick off his face. “What was I supposed to do?” asks poor Lee. “I’m her doctor. I’m trying to make her well—” Actually, I can think of a number of things he ought to have done, none of which involve wearing another woman’s make-up, but that’s just me. When Meg accuses Lee of sucking up (maybe literally) to Ardis to get the job, he asks, “Am I going [to have to] take you over my knee and pound some sense into you?” The timeless VNRN threat of somewhat kinky yet humiliating violence snaps her out of it. “I guess I wasn’t being fair,” she says.

In a continuing effort to be fair, Meg spends a day with Wylie, sailing to an offshore deserted island, where they swim, kiss a lot, picnic, and nap. Wylie even proposes marriage, but she just cries. In the hospital the next day, Ardis waylays Meg and tells her to give up Lee. “I’m going to take him away from you,” she says. “Lee has ambitions that will take him to higher levels. I’m in a position to help him get there. Are you?” When it’s put this way, Meg can’t help but go to Lee and tell him that it’s over. “She’s right for you,” she says. “She wants the same things you want. That’s important in a marriage.” Then it’s off to the beach to track down Wylie and tell him that after all she doesn’t love Lee “with every nerve in her body,” as she did on the book’s third page.

This book wasn’t flashy, but it was fun, offered some plotting excitement (a storm, a surgery during a blackout, the rescue of a drowning child) to perk things up, and had some humor to it. And, at the risk of exposing myself to complete ridicule, it had some really sweet parts, like the scene where Wylie and Meg are on the island and Meg, napping on Wylie’s shoulder, is described as Wylie sees her, in an almost Hemingway-esque passage: “The sun caught all the fire of her hair and it was soft as it brushed against his face. Her lashes were long and curled at the end like a child’s.” We watch Lee go home after work one day and interact with his aged father, seeing the camaraderie and interdependence and gratefulness each has for the other, allowing us to understand why the hospital director job is so important to him. It’s more than the cursory VNRN usually offers, so if Wylie is not the most compelling love interest I’ve met (and in fact his stalking of Meg borders on creepy), I’m willing to forgive all and recommend this book, overlooking its warts for its curling eyelashes.

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