Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nurses Marry Doctors

By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1956
Cover illustration by Edrien King

Besides being young and attractive, Julian Paige was a brilliant surgeon. He also believed that no doctor should ever marry. To Nurse Linda Stephens, already in love with him, this was not only an exasperating obstacle. It was a challenge. Though Phil Manley, also on the staff at Bennett Memorial, was ready to slip a ring on Linda’s finger, the pretty nurse could see herself saying “I do” only standing next to the handsome Julian. What made Julian change his mind was a triangle—a most unusual kind of triangle.


“You know, it’s really ridiculous the way I like looking at you.”

“She’d baked some pies that morning before going on duty. Apple, the kind most men prefer.”

“If Madelon King had four or five children, she’d have something to occupy that empty mind of hers. … Lots of women with money try to fill their lives with bridge and canasta and cocktail parties; then they’re always running to analysts or hypnotists to find out why they’re nervous. A little responsibility would work wonders with them.”

“You use so many big words, how do you expect me to follow you? Remember I’m just a little country girl.”

“Sometimes Linda wondered if between the three of them, they weren’t lavishing too much love on Betsy. This could be overdone, she supposed. But how could a child ever have too much love? Statistics gathered by the Recreation Program for Hospitalized and Orphaned children easily proved that the child who was much loved in infancy was normal in every way and grew both in strength and beauty.”

“A doctor doesn’t have much time for love. Even sometimes when he seems to have an obsession about a girl, he tries to write it off as a mere chemical reaction.”

I have not had great luck recently with VNRNs. The last time I read a book that earned an A was just before Thanksgiving. Nurses Marry Doctors isn’t that great, either. Part of its problem is that from the opening page, you know who the heroine, Linda Stephens, is supposed to end up with—Dr. Julian Page. It’s just a question of how long it takes him to come around. But we know the answer to that, too—126 pages.

Of course, as I explain to everyone when I tell them I read VNRNs, it’s not about the romance, it’s entirely what happens between the beginning and the end that makes or breaks a VNRN. Here we have some of that sort of charming life of the 1950s-era novel: The heroine has a good friend or roommate—the latter, in this case, Karen Winslow—with boy troubles of her own. They hang out in their apartment, do stuff together, and go on dates with men they’re not really interested in, for the most part untroubled by a linear plot. But in this book, Linda and Karen’s lives just aren’t that riveting to make for a great book.

Playing the role of the possible rivals are Evelyn Bryson, a 17-year-old jailbait socialite, and Dr. Phil Manley, who relentlessly pursued Linda and drives too fast. Under Julian’s guiding hand, Evelyn has rounded up her socialite pals to start a program that sends the young debutantes to an orphanage to play with the cuter babies. Though Julian has asked Linda and Karen to get involved in the program, Evelyn continually rebuffs them, even as time passes and Evie’s pals decide they have more important things to do at the country club. But Linda and Karen show up anyway, and Linda bonds with an infant whose widowed mother had been run over by a bus the day before. The baby has been crying non-stop for the last 24 hours, but she smiles and reaches out her thin little arms to Linda—it turns out that Linda is the spitting image of the baby’s dead mother! This story just rips Linda’s heart to shreds, because she herself lost her parents when she was very young. So she and Karen agree to take Baby Betsy home with them.

Between them and a retired nurse who still lives on the hospital grounds, they improve the baby’s health and spirits enormously, not to mention their own: Karen, who had been left at the altar two years ago and is still moping about it, acquires a new zest for life while stitching up tiny rompers and bonnets. But then three women “with severe hairdos, grim expressions and outlandish hats” show up on the doorstep. They’re from the Prairie County Children’s Welfare Board, and they’ve come to take Betsy to her only known relative, a toothless yokel named Sam Davis with six children of his own, who can barely manage to keep his family acquainted with dinner and soap. Karen and Linda go out to Sam’s tumble-down house and find Betsy unkempt and feverish and starving—Sam can’t afford the formula Betsy needs—and the Davis family about to climb into their flivver to head for Californy. Sam would be relieved if Linda took Betsy—and do any of the other young-uns look appealing to her?—but, he tells them, “We ain’t goin’ agin the law,” which feels that blood relatives are more important than love, food, and shelter.

When Linda and Karen get home again, Julian is there. Linda can barely tell him what happened through her sobs, and he asks her why she didn’t tell Sam that the law would allow her to keep Betsy, since she will soon be marrying Dr. Phil Manley, which is what Phil told Julian just this morning. But Linda replies that even if it meant she could keep Betsy, she can’t marry Phil because she doesn’t love him. Julian’s head lifts up, a new gleam comes to his eye, and he tears off like a shot for some reason that he won’t tell Linda.

I couldn’t possibly ruin the ending by telling you what happens next. Suffice to say, everything is wrapped up in a few more pages. The problem is, you don’t really care much about these characters or what happens to them, so the ending falls flat. The book has a light sweetness about it, like a spoonful of whipped cream, but it’s no more substantial—or satisfying—than that. Leave this book on the shelf and treat yourself instead to a slice of apple pie.

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