Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arctic Nurse

By Dorothy Dowdell, ©1966
Cover illustration by Allan Kass

When beautiful, dark-haired Lori Waters came home to Alaska, she was escaping the memory of heartbreak. She had fallen in love with young Dr. Cliff Randolph, handsome, brilliant, and devil-may-care. But she had lost him, and now she desperately plunged into the excitement and challenge of her work as head nurse on difficult, peril-filled medical missions to distant Alaskan villages. Then, one day, the new doctor arrived. As he descended from the airplane, Lori felt her heart skip a beat, then start throbbing violently. It was Cliff—who now said he loved her. But could she believe him, with his mocking smile and ironic gaze? Could she trust this man who had once so cruelly betrayed her?


“As they drove back to the Littner home, she half-wished that Bob would carry her off like a cave man and end the matter once and for all.”

Lori Waters is a bit unusual in VNRNs in that she is biracial, half Indian and half white. She was “raised white” by her mother, but her Indian heritage manifests itself in an ivory amulet around her neck that she spends a lot of time fondling throughout the book. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with her grandfather, Chief Whitewaters, who is college-educated and holds an important position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (Her parents are, as is common amongst VNRN heroines, dead; her mother died of cancer when Lori was in nursing school and her father was killed in the Korean War.) She works as the nurse on a series of clinics run in the remote areas around Fairbanks, which she reaches by plane with doctor and pilot Bob Littner. She is crucial to these missions because her grandfather taught her many Indian languages, so she can converse with the natives.

Bob is a childhood friend of Lori’s who is increasingly putting the pressure on her to marry him. She feels very torn about this: She thinks he would make a great husband, but her heart’s not in it. You see, when she was in training in Seattle, she fell madly in love with upper-crust Dr. Clifford Randolph. He dated her for a year—but after one hot and heavy date, she returned to the nurse’s dorm to find a newspaper left anonymously on her pillow with an announcement of Cliff’s engagement to a society princess. Now, a year later, she’s still not over him.

So when one of the usual Alaskan MDs is away for the summer and a new doc from Seattle arrives to take his place, you should not be at all surprised to find that it is Dr. Randolph who steps off the plane. He tells Lori that his engagement ended last week by mutual consent—“it was one of those deals where we had always known each other,” Cliff tells her, describing, curiously, the same situation as Lori and Bob’s. Upon finding himself single, he has made tracks to Alaska to see her. Indeed, he soon proposes to Lori, and though she is a bit wary of him, she accepts. This means that she is going to have to leave Alaska for Seattle, perhaps never to see her grandfather again. Chief Whitewaters is vehemently against the marriage because, as he tells Lori, “Only you can carry out my dream to better the lot of our people.” Although, since Lori is planning to quit working “for good” when she marries, I’m not really sure how much of a difference Lori is going to make.

It’s the usual formula, with Bob begging Lori to reconsider and moping around a lot, even coming to blows with Cliff, until Lori is finally persuaded that Cliff is—duh—the wrong man. This occurs when there is a major earthquake in the north, coincidentally occurring the day before Lori and Cliff are to fly to Hawaii to meet up with his family and get married. Lori, Cliff, and Bob fly off to the hinterlands, where they spend 24 hours patching people up. But then Cliff, increasingly anxious about the fact that further delay will make him and Lori late for the party his mother has arranged for them in Honolulu, arranges for them to fly with a batch of wounded patients on a Red Cross plane to Fairbanks, where they can catch their jet to Hawaii. Lori, aghast that Cliff would rank his own personal interests first during a major disaster, puts him on the Red Cross plane, alone. “I guess I’m far more Indian than I realize,” she tells him. “I can’t go off and leave them.”

When the disaster is laid to rest and they’re back in Fairbanks, Lori and Bob are having coffee in the hospital—the VNRN romantic equivalent of a candlelight bistro in Paris—when she tells him, “I guess I’m not in love with Cliff after all,” and suddenly Bob is making her eyes light up in a new way. It’s a bit perplexing and way too pat, given the earlier descriptions of how she cried her eyes out for a year after Cliff dumped her and her hand-wringing about how, though Bob is otherwise so perfect for her, she does not love him. But I shouldn’t have been surprised; this entire book is perfunctory and automatic, with little of interest to keep the pages turning.

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