By Tracy Adams
(pseud. Sofi O’Bryan), ©1962
Inspired by her medical student fiancé, Cindy Thorne abandoned her acting career to become a nurse. But the details of medical training and the strain of awaiting his return made her question her decision. Was her dedication to helping humanity strong enough to counter the excitement of a new appearance behind the footlights and the charm of an intriguing leading man?
“With a love scene like that you’ll give all the doctors high blood pressure and they’ll kick you out of nursing, baby.”
“My heart is in real bad shape, suffering from a stenosis there’s no name for.”
Cindy Thorne is a former child star with a haranguing stage mother who has lost her chance at glory by association when the child in question opted for a more pedestrian career: While researching a role at a hospital, Cindy met this intern, Bruce, and soon decided to chuck Hollywood for nursing school so she could help him when he goes into practice. (But it’s also apparent that Hollywood had dropped Cindy as well, as she had become too old to play a child, and roles for older girls weren’t forthcoming.)
When the book opens, Cindy is a few months from graduating from nursing school, and her class has decided to stage a production of My Fair Lady. Cindy, of course, lands the lead. There’s this intern, Ted Morrow, who qualifies for the part of Henry Higgins basically by being cute, but he comes with the extra advantage that he’s already pining for his leading lady. As play rehearsals progress, Cindy spends a lot of time thinking about how much she loves being on the stage and asking herself if nursing is really the right career for her. Oh, and dating – and kissing – Ted, despite her being all but engaged to Bruce. As graduation and opening night approach, her internal struggles increase in frequency and amplitude, until both are over and Cindy is heading out for a celebratory night on the town with Bruce, planning to tell him that she’s going to quit nursing before her shiny new RN pin has even cooled. Then their cab is brought to a halt in a traffic jam caused by a fire in the subway near the Times building on 42nd Street – and she and Bruce are simultaneously tumbling out onto the street to go help the injured. Somehow this instinctive reaction completely negates all those pages of internal turmoil, and “she belonged in this white uniform, in these white oxfords and white stockings. She wouldn’t exchange places with any other girl in the world.”
I’ve spent the morning wondering what to say about this book. As you can see from the pair of paragraphs above, there’s not really much to say. It’s mildly pleasant, but it has next to no camp or humor, and it’s a bit earnest for my taste, with too much fretting over how emotionally demanding nursing is. The cast of characters is overly large; we whiz past 12 other nursing students, getting to know just one, who is unfortunately a bit irritating. Our brief exposure to Bruce – he doesn’t even have a last name – is not enough to make for a satisfying ending when she chooses him over Ted. I was also somewhat taken aback, given Cindy’s previously strong conviction that she needed to be an actress, that she could reverse herself for apparently no more of reason than that she reached for a car door handle in a moment of crisis. In the end, the spotlight is focused on a fickle nurse engaged to a stranger, and I’m more than ready to leave the theater.