Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Las Vegas Nurse

By Jane L. Sears, ©1963

Marta Humphries had been a nurse for six years. In that time it had not occurred to her that she was using the nursing profession as an antiseptic white wall to protect her from the hurts of the world outside, or from her own fierce craving for a passionate involvement in life. Returning to Las Vegas’ Hoover Memorial Hospital after an absence of five years, Marta discovered that Doctor Spence Marlow, the brilliant young surgeon, and the man responsible for her self-imposed exile, now desired her as she had once hoped he would. Marta unhesitatingly accepted his proposal of marriage. Then handsome Dev Russel, manager of the glamorous Desert Spa Casino, came into her life, first as her patient, then as her sister’s employer. For Marta, Dev personified everything she despised about Las Vegas. But as she got to know him, suspicion turned into an emotion that Marta hardly dared recognize…


“I wish she’d hurry up and find herself before I end up in a padded cell!”

“I’ve always been crazy about interns. They’re so … so grim and sexy looking!”

“Why, she hadn’t worn seams in ages!”

“Nothing can kill a romance faster than having family label it: acceptable.”

“Doctor McNulty deserved more than her shaking hands and whirling, numbed mind could give him when he began cutting into his patient to remove a cancerous colon.”

“How soignée you look in those tapered pants, Marta!”

“There was this gookie Knight […] The Ogre knew that he’d have to bump off the Knight because the Princess imagined that she was ape over him and the Ogre knew that he couldn’t get all shaped up until this babe loved him. […] The Ogre hunched in his cave far up on the mountain and looked down and watched the Princess and the Knight in their snow white clothes and pondered on how to get the Knight out of the way without making the Princess flip her wig.”

“I kept asking myself how she could go around in that sacky old uniform and have men falling all over themselves.”

Marta Humphries has returned to Las Vegas to work with surgeon Dr. Spencer Marlow, the same man she ran away from five years ago because she could not bear the heartbreak of his indifference toward her. More than that, though, she's got to start whipping her family into shape. Her father has leukemia and has 6 to 12 months to live; he feels fine, but he’s got to check into the hospital to start dying, even though he emphatically declares he wants to spend his last days in his own home. And then there’s her kid sister who needs bossing around: Polly’s “too tight clothes, a hint of defiance in her attitude toward Marta, and now complete disregard for the parking ticket which was probably just one of many, labeled the girl as rebellious.”

She’s working in the OR, “slapping the required instruments into Doctor Spence Marlow’s gloved hand almost before the command left his lips.” In the OR, Spence becomes “dictatorial, whiplashing impatience. He literally barked his commands, swore under his breath periodically, sighed and snarled… His sudden harshness indicating to Marta that so far things were going well.” And since he even has “the clever surgeon’s hand that had held Marta tense with admiration for its skills,” he’s got all the prerequisite signs of a brilliant surgeon. When she’s not in the OR, she’s attempting to take a patient’s temperature by holding his wrist and counting—which in modern times we would call a pulse, but you know how quickly medicine changes. Another patient of hers is Dev Russel, the owner of a hot nightclub on the strip. Polly, who is 17, takes to visiting Dev in the hospital, where the pair indulges in cocktails and cigarettes. This is one swinging hospital!

It’s not long before Spence notices Marta’s gray dress and asks her out, and by Chapter Six he’s proposed and he and Marta are squabbling about picking out the furniture for his new house. And about the wedding date—Marta feels she can’t marry for a year, considering that she’s just gotten home and she needs to get Polly safely grown up first. The first step is getting Polly a job at the airport. “Perhaps it would be interesting enough and exciting enough to nurture higher ambitions in Polly, secretarial school for instance, where she’d learn the tools necessary for a good, steady and high paying job with a future and security.” As for her own future with him, apart from raising children, “when the children were of school age she’d be able to act as Spence’s office nurse and even continute her surgical work at the hospital if he wanted her to. That decision, of course, would be up to him.”

Spencer is furious about the delay; he tells Marta, “I want a wife and home, and I want it now, Marta!” Though considering they’ve only been dating a few weeks, one wonders why he doesn’t want to make sure he’s got the right gal picked out. But then he takes her to Dev Russel’s nightclub to catch a show, “the chorus girls prance onstage, their scanty bikini constumes winking brilliantly against the spotlights, breasts bouncing, hips grinding to the fast jazz music … It was Polly!” The fact that Polly is a showgirl degrades both Polly and Marta, Spence says, and she is rightly furious for his comments and for springing this “surprise” on her. The next day she goes to visit Dev Russel and plead with him to fire Polly, but Dev just laughs. She’s humiliated and inscensed, but she can’t get his browned muscular figure out of her head.

Then after work the next day, Dev is parked outside the hospital, waiting for her. He tells her that if she just lets Polly get this showgirl thing out of her system, she’ll drop it soon enough. This instantly makes “wonderul sense” to Marta, and when Dev next asks her to meet this family he knows, she goes along. Cathy Murray is the widow of his best friend, and the oldest of her three children works for Dev as a busboy. Cathy and the two younger children all have muscular dystrophy. “They were all going to die. … Marta’s practiced reserve very nearly melted when Kit limped unsteadily toward her and said: ‘Pretty lady!’ ” From then on we spend quite a few days with the Murrays, agonizing in italics but without benefit of commas about how poor Cathy “couldn’t even lift the pot her muscles were so deteriorated!” There’s also a star-crossed flirtation between Dev and the engaged Marta, in which he says charming things like, “Can’t you see I want to get that good-looking broad … I mean dame, alone for a minute!” Who will she choose—the shady nightclub owner or the steadfast but domineering doctor? Well, all I have to say is that Las Vegas Nurse has, hands down, the most peculiar marriage proposal I’ve ever seen in a VNRN: “How’d you like about fifty years of private duty, you dumb broad?”

Jane L. Sears, author of the sublime Ski Resort Nurse, is ever high in my esteem based solely on the utter fabulousness of that one book. Television Nurse also had its moments, but this, her third and apparently last book, is sadly not the equal of either of its sisters. Campy characters and situtations should come easily to a book about gangsters and showgirls, but what we get most of is syrupy sentiment about the dying family. Or Marta freaking out about her sister’s wild behavior, or sighing over Dev’s devilishly handsome mien, or grumping to herself about Spence’s selfishness. There’s just not all that much to hold your interest in this book. Given my high regard for Ms. Sears, it pains me greatly to say it, but there it is. She is capable of greatness, but the only divine aspect about this book is its cover.

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