Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ice Show Nurse

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1970
Cover illustration by David Blossom

In the spotlight Tina, a queen on ice, spun … and the audience gasped with delight. Behind the scenes Nurse Wells stood watching with the doctors … the man she’d joined the ice show to be near. But could the quiet, competent nurse hope to win her man when Tina whirled, glittering, out of the spotlight and into his arms?


“ ‘You’re simply too good-looking to have settled for a …’ Alan hesitated, perhaps deciding against words like ‘menial’ and ‘dull.’ ‘For something as unglamorous as nursing. Not that a pretty face and a good figure are the criteria here.’ ”

“Hey, I can think of better places to make love to you. Let’s get out of here.”

Nurse Jeanette Dawson is working at Taylor Memorial Hospital in Chicago when she bumps into Roark Wells. He’s visiting from his stint with the Fantasy on Ice show, where he’s been bandaging sprained ankles and egos for the past year. Just the sight of him makes her go weak in the knees, and in the brain, apparently; when he offers her a job as nurse with the ice show, she accepts, even though everything about the job disgusts her. At the interview she meets the show’s star, Tina Lavalle, who is imperious and rude, natch, and the show’s producer, Alan Duarte, “had no respect for Jeanette’s profession or Roark’s knowledge, apart from the fact that they might be occasionally useful in keeping his show going.” When she finds out she has the job, she feels “more annoyed than elated.”

Even her “unbelievable good fortune of being Roark Wells’ private nurse, of spending every day in his presence, of traveling all over the country with him, of becoming someone indispensable to him,” quickly pales when it becomes clear that Roark has zero interest in Jeanette. She never sees him, he pays her no attention beyond that a professional doctor would pay a professional nurse, and in fact, he is dating Tina! So she spends a lot of time mooning in the most revolting manner, as in, “Jeanette invariably found her breathing erratic for a few minutes after Roark stepped into a room.”

She starts dating producer Alan expressly to “inspire a ray of jealousy in Roark,” but it doesn’t work at all; he’s too busy taking Tina out to notice. Before long, she and Alan are a serious item—or at least he is serious and she doesn’t clue him in to the fact that she doesn’t care for him—even if she is still trying to prolong conversations with Roark, thinking, “If she held Roark’s attention long enough, if they talked about non-medical matters long enough, maybe …”

Alan’s strategy has been to pamper Tina in every way, but Jeanette convinces him that he should be playing hardball instead. He’s got this up-and-coming skater, Gretchen Hiller, after all, who has been turning up the heat under Tina’s blades. So Alan announces that Gretchen is going to have a new solo in the show. Tina responds by clawing Gretchen across the face and threatening to quit the show. Alan demonstrates his new-found spine and responds by telling her that if she does, he will sue her for breach of contract. Roark responds by putting a Band-Aid on Gretchen and telling her, “That’s going to heal up in no time, Gretchen. I’ve got to go look after some permanent scars,” and chasing after Tina. He slings his arm around Tina’s shoulders and tells her, “We’ll talk about it, darling. You’ve still got me, and it’s all going to be fine.” See, he’s thinking of going into psychiatry, and Tina, who he believes to be “a tortured victim who needs all the love and understanding she can get,” is a great patient for him to work on. Somehow, though, I don’t think Freud would approve of his methodology.

Then, during the debut of Gretchen’s solo act, Gretchen stumbles on the ice and crashes head-first into the railing. She’s carted off to the hospital in a coma, and the ice is found to have Gretchen’s own gold hairpins scattered across its surface. Everyone knows Gretchen is much too concerned with safety to have allowed this to happen, so who did it? Roark immediately leaps to Tina’s defense with a lot of blather about Tina’s “fantastic progress,” how he’s “been trying to make her understand that she doesn’t have to fight her way through life, that she’s capable of loving and being loved,” but Jeanette knows better. When Tina is found guilty, she asks him, is he going to “tell us she couldn’t help putting Gretchen into the intensive care unit because she had an unhappy childhood? Her mother was frightened by a hairpin salesman?”

Roark stomps off, and Jeanette believes even their tenuous friendship is over. She’s devastated, and decides to quit the show, where she realizes she has been wasting her talents. But before she leaves, she goes back to the arena and talks the performers into forgoing their threatened strike over the incident and putting on the performance of their lives. She tops this off by extracting a confession from the guilty individual and then deactivating the nuclear weapon hidden in the broom closet that’s set to go off during the show. Well, not that last, but something even more outrageous happens: Jeanette tells Roark that she’s leaving because she loves him, and he admits that he has been desperately in love with Jeanette the whole time! The book ends with the two of them racing off to find a preacher and me racing off to find some Pepto-Bismol.

I usually pick up a book by Jane Converse with some enthusiasm. She’s a good writer, humorous, and her story lines are usually pretty good. Ice Show Nurse, however, must have been cranked out because the rent was due. This perfunctory book has little enthusiasm, camp, or fun. Even the psychotic skating star, a character that could be the stuff Oscars are made of, is more pathetic than fearsome. I found it curious that the back-cover blurb mistakes the nurse’s name; she’s Jeanette Dawson, and the doctor is the one named Wells. When even the blurb writers can’t pay enough attention to a story to get it right, you know you’re in trouble.

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