By Zillah K. Macdonald with Josie Johnson, ©1957
Cover illustration by
When pretty young Roxanne McRae gave up a glamorous post
in a large New York hospital to become Assistant Nurse at the Hudson Sugar
Refinery—a job with broad responsibility for the welfare of a big company—she did
not realized she would be plunged into—
Danger—the hazards of a huge plant where safety measures are few and
injuries many and terrible …
Romance—with Anthony Polk, young general manager—handsome, charming, and
sometimes infuriating …
Intrigue—when the accident rate at the plant rises suddenly, Roxanne decides
to play detective and finds herself caught in a mysterious and frightening situation …
“Putting on a cast was surely indicated. And that meant
teamwork of the finest kind with the attending surgeon.”
“Men patients always thought they were dying.”
“These new-in-America patients are just children. They can’t
wait to rip the bandages off and show the wound, and every dirty finger in the
neighborhood starts pawing over it. The idea of asepsis is nil. Never been
Roxanne, Company Nurse
purports to be something of a mystery. The mystery is what the authors were
thinking, or if they were thinking at all, when they penned this throwaway. At
the book’s opening, Roxanne McCrae is a float nurse at St. Agatha’s hospital in
upstate New York, and has just gotten stuck working her third weekend in a row.
But then a new patient who works at the nearby sugar refinery is brought in. He’s
left his watch on a windowsill at the plant, and asks Roxanne to go and get it for
him. So off she trots to retrieve it, and in short order she’s been offered a
job there and is working the day shift—no weekends!
Almost at once, as we are alerted by the back cover blurb (above),
Roxanne is plunged into a frightening
situation … she’s in a basement room of the factory when the lights
go out. She hears a swishing sound, and a voice cries, “Let me out!” She
panics, flails around, and then, when the lights come back on, runs into
Anthony Polk, the company owner’s son. He shows her the way out, and that’s the
end of that.
Except it’s not: The book keeps wondering about this scene:
what was the swishing sound, who cried out, who turned out the lights and why?
Eventually we learn it was a parrot who was speaking, but whose parrot? Then,
when we discover (I am sorry to say) several talking parrots, which one is the
guilty parrot? Why was it there? Did it drop the cigarette butt that Roxanne
found on the cellar floor? Around and around, until you’d just like to bash
that bloody parrot’s head in for involving you in this endless navel-gazing.
Would that were the only mystery in play here. Why is the
accident rate going up at the plant? Why do most accidents happen at 11 a.m., when
Anthony Polk makes his tour of the plant? Why are all the workers thinking they’ll
lose their jobs if they come to the infirmary with their bleeding gashes? What
does the factory reporter know? Why does the injured worker with the lost watch
think something is wrong at the factory? Why is there a rumor going around the
plant about “trouble in the Medical Division,” and why is the ten-year-old boy
who hangs around the plant referring to her as the “bandit nurse”? (I wanted to
know what a fourth grader is doing at a sugar factory, but that is one mystery
the book left unscathed.) Even though I just finished reading this book, I can
honestly say I don’t know the answer to a single one of these questions.
Roxanne is rather annoying. Early on she spends a
chapter worrying that she’s lost the friendship of Mary, the nurse she works
with at the infirmary, though I could see no reason whatsoever why Mary would be
angry with her, unless all the obsessing was getting on her nerves as much as
it was on mine. Roxanne is infuriatingly insecure, endlessly fretting about her
abilities. “She herself had a sense of inefficiency and failure. What would she
do if Mary and Dr. Nealley decided she had not the brains for the job?” When
she’s the only medical staff on duty, she has “a curiously helpless feeling.
She was quite alone. The idea that a doctor was not within call worried her.”
She’s called to handle an accident on the factory floor, and “for an instant
Roxanne’s knees went weak.” She is a far cry from the typical nurse heroine, who
is a spunky, confident woman who will do the appendectomy herself if the doctor
doesn’t pull himself together, stat!
Another of Roxanne’s irritating habits is that she endlessly
poses a paragraph’s worth of never-to-be-answered questions: “Did he really
know? Or was he just being kind? Had he guessed her secret?” “What did he mean?
Was he just another who did not like Anthony Polk? Did they, too, resent his
impulsiveness? And suffer from it? And then she remembered the call from the
foreman. What was his name?” If it’s
not question marks we’re being inundated with, it’s exclamation points: “Her
job was here! Grandmother could drive! She must take that chance!” I expect the
plethora of punctuation is meant to engender some sort of emotion in the
reader, but all it induced in me was exasperation.
Then there’s her final mystery: What is up with her abrupt, inexplicable,
baseless obsession with Anthony Polk, who apart from popping up in the dark
room, has had little contact with her at all? Particularly since, at the
beginning of the book, she finds him irritating? “If they could just sit beside
Grandmother’s fire once more, she might be able to warn him. She might even try
to win his affection. She was ashamed to have to own up, even to herself, that
she wanted to. Nothing else in life now seemed to matter.” Seriously?
In the end, we discover that someone is trying
to drive Anthony out of the factory, and the climactic scene plays a bit like
that in The
Nurse. Except the bad guy in this case has no gun, and when he tells
Roxanne to hand over the incriminating evidence or he’ll have her fired, she
actually considers giving it to him (never mind that if she exposes the plot,
he’s the one who will be fired, if he doesn’t actually do time): “Her knees
went weak. She reflected that his criticism might even prevent her from getting
an executive position in any nursing field. He had it in his power, perhaps, to
ruin her career! Temptation assailed her. Why should she jeopardize her career
to right a wrong that was past, over, and done with?” She’s about to surrender
when she realizes that his plot has jeopardized the health of the factory
workers, and that the fundamental job of a nurse is to preserve health! So she
drops the evidence into a locked drawer, and the bad guy turns and leaves. Wow,
my knees are as weak as Roxanne’s after that frightening situation.
How about you?
I desperately wanted to like this book, based entirely upon
Harry Bennett’s fabulous cover illustration and the fact that it was originally
titled Roxanne, Industrial Nurse,
which rated pretty high on my camp-o-meter. But there is really nothing to appreciate
inside this overlong, annoying book. Just enjoy the cover and move on to