By Jeanne Bowman
(pseud. Peggy (O’More) Blocklinger), ©1965
Boarding the trawler that was to take her to her new home, Lorina Rodgers wondered if she had made the right decision. Was she crazy to leave her safe and hectic job at the mainland hospital to become the only nurse of this isolated, starkly beautiful island? Old Benjamin Jones, the island’s wealthy and crotchety owner, had been curiously intent on persuading the pretty young nurse to take the assignment. Lorina knew the island needed her, but she suspected that the cantankerous old man had another card up his sleeve—finding the right wife for his handsome, blond, and equally stubborn grandson. Before long, Lorina found herself caught in a tangle of island politics and deepening love that forced her to choose between her duty as a nurse—and her life as a woman.
“He gave her the kind of smile seldom seen off the Silver Screen.”
“He said all of the proper things, then went his way. And the two women went their normal way, to the kitchen.”
“There was something about a nurse’s uniform which turned a normally ugly girl into a beauty in the eyes of a patient.”
I have to say that I now pick up a Jeanne Bowman novel as I would a fork spearing brussels sprouts, but sometimes even tiny cabbages can surprise you. That said, they’re just never going to be my favorite.
Lorina Rodgers is nursing a wealthy old bastard, Benjamin Johnson, back to health. After he needles her relentlessly for days, she tells him off: “Calm down and shut up,” she says to him, “because if you don’t, I am going to fill you so full of injections you won’t come to until I have you laced in a strait-jacket. I have had it!” Naturally the old goat is instantly smitten. This works out for her so well that she sasses his gorgeous grandson, also called Benjamin Johnson, when he comes in to visit. When young Ben threatens to have her sacked, she responds, “Would you, please? I’d so appreciate it. I haven’t the courage to walk out on five years of training and experience, but I do so want to get away.”
It’s her mother, see, “who believes all daughters were born into this world to serve mama.” But Old Jamin, as the elder Johnson is unfortunately nicknamed, has a plan to help Lorina and himself at the same time: He tells Lorina she’s “too selfish to let her mother find a life of her own,” and then persuades her to come to live on the island he owns to care for his factory workers. But he has another motive: “He might not look like Cupid, but he had cupidity, and the one thing above all others he deeply needed was the right wife for young Ben.”
Out on the island, Lorina gets right to work setting to rights all the troubles that have come to the island’s population. She explains to an elderly woman that her son, who lives next door, painted his house pink not in defiance of the red-house-painting ways of their home country but because “pink represents new ways,” and her son “always wants the latest.” Another aged islander, crippled by a heart attack, refuses to sit still all day despite the certain danger this brings to his health because “his sickness lay in being unable to contribute to the family income.” But he does like to whittle, and Lorina has a friend on the mainland who owns a gift shop who is looking for items just like the figurines he carves, and soon the whittler is bringing in big bucks. One young man is accident prone: “He had cut his hand on his scaling knife. And yes, it was a shining clean knife, scalded, ready for business. He’d been the business.” But Lorina sees right through this; really he is discontent with his life as a fisherman and hopes to leave the island and take up his true calling, forestry. She immediately pens a note to Old Jamin, who prior to opening the fishery logged every tree on the island, and suggests that he start a reforestation program. There’s lots more where those cures came from, but I’ll take pity; perhaps you have a weak stomach.
Meanwhile, Lorina’s mother is maneuvering to get her daughter back by sending her everything her daughter owns, including artwork from when she was in grade school. Mom disappears and wires her other daughters, who long ago abandoned mom for husbands, that only Lorina will be able to find her. Lorina mulls it over and wires her sisters that mom is at the nearest ski resort. “Why do we take on so much responsibility for the actions of others? How do we know giving in is the best thing for them?” she asks young Ben, just one round of many philosophical discussions about being “unselfishly selfish” by giving her mother everything the old bag has ever asked of her.
Needless to say, the book winds up with everyone’s problems solved: The island’s ailing economy is revived by a timely earthquake and an article that Lorina has given Old Jamin, Lorina’s mother finally figures out what she’s going to do with her life, Ben finds a wife, and Lorina finds a husband. These endings are each as improbable as all the other solutions Lorina has contrived throughout the book, so the fact that they come out of nowhere and are entirely unsatisfying is not surprising. Having suffered through several other of Ms. Bowman’s books, I expected that wacky pop psychology was going to play a heavy hand in this book, and there it was, in every chapter. But the far-out prose of the other books of hers I’ve read (Door to Door Nurse, Conflict for Nurse Elsa) is completely absent, making me think that Ms. Bowman must have gone on the wagon for the week or two it took her to pen this one. Shoreline Nurse is easily the best book of hers I’ve read to date, but coherent prose is just not enough to recommend any book, let alone this one.