Thursday, September 27, 2012

No Tears Tomorrow

By Helaine Ross
(pseud. Dorothy Daniels), ©1962
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

When beautiful Colette LeClair, M.D., decided to come to the tiny island of Northport to fight a dread children’s disease, she left behind an exciting career in a big city hospital, and a man who promised to wait for her love. But now, it seemed that the town did not want an “outsider’s” help … and even their ruggedly handsome young doctor suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from Colette’s laboratory. Colette LeClair was a lovely woman and a dedicated doctor, but she could not cure the ache in her own heart.


“The efficiency drained out of her and she was just a very attractive, very exhausted young woman of twenty-eight who should have been gracing the ballroom floor of a fine New Orleans hotel.”

“You’re not a young girl any more. You’re throwing aside such fine chances to make up for all those dreary years you spent in school.”

“You’re a strange female. You keep getting more and more attractive.”

“They tell me you’re a real doctor. Hard to believe. Pretty girls are to be looked at and courted and made much of, not treat somebody’s bellyache.”

“It’s rather wonderful to have two strong men fighting over me.”

“You were so pretty you had to be a good doctor.”

Colette LeClair is a southern belle through and through—except for the minor detail that she’s been through medical school—and this is a main reason why we are supposed to admire her. On the first page we find out that she is 5'5" and 116 pounds, which means that if she loses six pounds she will be medically underweight. She wears two-inch pumps to benefit her “slim, well-shaped legs” even if they’re hard on her feet, and “she was possessed of the soft complexion of someone brought up in a gentle climate by parents sufficiently well-to-do so that Colette never had to worry.” Her fiancé, Dr. Martin Ames, by contrast, is a former football player (this fact is so important that we are told this in the fourth sentence of our acquaintance with him) who is a “tall, ruggedly built man.” Let the stereotypes go forth and prosper!

As the book opens, she is working on the pediatric leukemia ward, where she encounters little dying waif Mary Larkin. From Mary’s mother, Addie, she learns that their home, a small island off the coast of Maine, has had eight cases of leukemia this year, despite the fact that the disease is rare and the island holds only 365 residents. Colette is instantly bitten with the idea that she must go to Northport Island and find the cure to leukemia, which she feels must be there, because this concentration of cases is “perhaps the most important break we’ve had” in the fight against leukemia. Marty, who is planning to open a his-and-hers practice in New Orleans when they finish their residencies in a few months, is a bit steamed about this decision, but eventually agrees: “You go and get this out of your system, dear, and then come back and settle down.”

So off she goes, and within a few days she’s arrived at Addie’s empty house. The house is wicked cold because it’s fall, and she’s about to freeze to death when Mike Cameron walks through her door and turns up the thermostat. (She being from the south, she had no idea what that contraption on the wall was for.) Mike is a former doctor who quit practicing when he became an alcoholic, and now he lives on the island full-time so as to avoid temptation. Colette cooks him dinner and then hustles him out the door, because she has to be up early to get to work: “In her assigned rôle of leukemia research, minutes were precious.” That extra hour the next morning is going to make all the difference! So at dawn she is up and fiddling with the thermostat and the coffee pot, and then running into town to chat up the locals at the general store. Everyone is pretty forthcoming about the answers to her questions, and helpfully offers directions to the house of one of the leukemia victims, but she leaves the store thinking, “The people were too much like the climate—cold. She could almost imagine she could see the chilly frost on them.” I don’t know what more she is anticipating, but with this sentiment I began to think Colette LeClair, medical degree notwithstanding, is a bit shallow.

Her encounter with the local doc didn’t change my mind on that score. He’s with a patient when she comes into the waiting room, but “Colette had an idea she was being deliberately kept waiting, for half an hour went by.” Believe me, it’s not tough to spend 30 minutes with a patient, which she should surely know, but she seems to be under the impression that it’s all about her. When she finally gets in to see him, Dr. Tierney initially refuses to cooperate, but then Mike shows up and bullies the man into releasing his charts on the leukemia victims and their families to Colette, a clear violation of at least today’s medical ethics.

Mike goes back to her house with her, offers to help her with her research, but then comes across a photo of Marty and storms out of the house. Self-centered Colette thinks that “Mike must have been disappointed and that an alcoholic needs only an excuse to start drinking.” So she chases him back to his house and, in what may be the second hour she’s spent with him, tells him that she’s really in love with him. “She needed him,” she thinks as he’s kissing her. “He would be indispensable in her work, and if he gave way to his problem of drinking, he would be useless. Therefore, perhaps she loved him to keep him from that and for selfish reasons concerned more with research than love.” Well, I don’t know about you, but that didn’t improve my opinion of Dr. LeClair. And when Mike proposes the very next day, she agrees without even stopping to consider her other fiancé.

The next day, though, “she had to admit she missed Marty Ames.” But on the following page, when Mike insists that she hasn’t yet forgotten Marty, she answers, “I think of him, but that doesn’t mean I want to be with him, or that I’m sorry I broke off with him.” Even to herself, during a solitary walk on the beach, she cannot be honest: “She refused to ponder the idea of whether she was in love with Mike. She wasn’t actually certain whom she loved, if anyone.” Then Mike disappears from the island without leaving a note, and Marty turns up. He asks her to leave the island and marry him right away. Her answer—“I … think so”—strikes even him as insincere, but when he asks her, “Has anything happened on this island to make you doubt that being married to me is the best thing?” The little minx, “she shook her head and smiled warmly. ‘No, Marty.’ ” There are words for women (and men) who act like this, but they’re seldom encountered in a VNRN.

Mike soon returns, and it turns out he’s gone to get little Mary Larkin, whose miraculous recovery convinces the islanders to fully cooperate with Colette’s research. But Colette tells Mike she’s leaving the island with Marty in a few days, now that Mike’s back—“Back and cold sober,” he answers. “Colette said sharply, ‘No one even considered …’ ” But this is a lie, for the minute she finds that he’s left the island on his boat, she thinks, “The reason for Mike Cameron’s disappearance was obvious. He had taken his cruiser and gone to the mainland where he could indulge in his crippling habit.” Indeed, she even tells Marty that Mike “went off to find some comfort in the only way he seems to know.”

Marty has to get back to New Orleans right away, but Colette needs a few days to wrap up her research with Mike. After Marty has gone, Addie tells Colette that Marty had received two reports about Mary’s progress that he had deliberately not forwarded to her, even knowing that as Mary’s doctor and alleged leukemia researcher, Colette would have wanted those reports very badly. Colette decides that Marty had been deliberately trying to torpedo her enthusiasm for research on the island, and this is apparently supposed to be enough of a reason for Colette to exhibit even more of her fickle behavior. She takes Mike to New York and the pair makes lots of speeches to leukemia researchers and convinces them to open a major leukemia research lab on the island, a development that occurs in a swift two pages. And best of all, Mike has just one Manhattan!! “I could have refused the first, but it’s no longer necessary for me to try to govern myself,” he explains to Colette. “I’ve licked it. I’ve come to realize that I have some vitally important work to do. Tricky work, at which a hang-over would be a serious impediment. So—that’s it.” All that’s left is for Colette to telephone Marty and dump him, and she and Mike can ride off into a snowstorm.

It’s not just Colette’s character that is a bit uneven; her ideas about leukemia and its cure are many and contradictory. At one point she talks about how “leukemia may be transmitted. Not like smallpox but from sort of contact or some previous illness.” Later she says that leukemia is “certainly not” infectious; “it has been proved that leukemia can’t be caught.” On the other hand, she also is convinced that it may be a virus—though any disease transmitted by virus is, by definition, infectious. “I’m trying to find the proof that other children on this island, along with adults, have become immune to leukemia,” she tells Mike, and that this may be due to “an immunizing virus.” She’s under the impression that “if no other person on this island gets leukemia, then it’s a good indication that everybody is somehow immune,” an idea utterly bereft of logic. But that’s not her only theory: “Perhaps there’s some other disease, which all of the children had—knowingly or unknowingly—and this left its mark so that later they were susceptible to leukemia.” So in total I count at least three different theories she’s going to be chasing down—and even before she abruptly decided to leave the island with Marty she had been planning on being back in New Orleans in “a few months.” Has she stopped to consider the long decades that thousands of researchers had already been working on this disease? Dr. LeClair is either very naïve or very conceited. I’m betting on the latter.

This book did have more camp than I've seen in the VNRNs I’ve read lately, and it starts right with the opening sentence: “Colette LeClair wore her white coat as glamorously as a society debutante wears her mink.” But our heroine has more than a few major character flaws: She lies, and she’s ridiculously fickle. I have to ask myself, when I meet these lame heroines, if the author ever stops to consider that her leading lady has the depth and sophistication of a mud puddle, and that some might therefore find it difficult to respect her. Indeed, I could not bring myself to care for her at all, and rather worried how long it would be before the dopey man who ended up with her would soon regret his choice.

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