Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Favorite Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1968
Cover illustration by Charles Gehm

“My favorite nurse” … that’s the way Roanna Evans’ patients at Rockwell General described her. But Roanna, in turn, became so involved with her patients that, if any of them failed to recover, it was like a dagger in her heart. Dr. Bill Benton, head of the department, was in love with Roanna—but he was extremely worried about her tearful concern for her patients. So he did what he thought best: He ordered her to take a leave of absence. Roanna recovered her spirits in no time. She had taken a new job which made but few demands on her time—and even less on her emotions. Besides, her new boss was very attractive, and often took her out on dates. Suddenly an emergency erupted at Rockwell General. A frantic call went out for every available nurse. Roanna knew that Dr. Bill Benton needed her. … But could she face that ordeal again?


“If you make a woman stop being a woman, it will be a dull old world.”

“It’s indecent for a woman to look so pretty so early in the morning.”

“So you’re the new nurse. I heard you were a looker.”

“She found herself being very thoroughly and expertly kissed.”

“Listen, sweetheart, there’s just one thing I want out of life: fun. A good time. A pretty woman like you.”

Roanna Evans is the best nurse at Rockwell General Hospital. But she’s on the brink of going down in flames: She cares for her patients so much that every setback is a knife to her heart. But she has this one patient, the crabby old Luther Holland, who in true VNRN is style quite rich. She’s won him over, natch, and now he is insisting that she come work for him at his department store. She’s not convinced that she’s making the right decision, as she feels she is abandoning important work, but she just can’t take it anymore. So she hands in her resignation and walks out, a free woman who apparently doesn’t believe in two weeks’ notice.

Holland’s Department Store has been a local cornerstone for decades, and the shop is looking a little rough around the edges. But Luther refuses to modernize, even when a new, ultra-modern department store decides to open in town. Ted Holland, Luther’s do-nothing son, grumbles a lot that without a little updating, Holland’s is doomed, but his father refuses to listen to him. So Ted comes up to the nurse’s office regularly to cry on Roanna’s shoulder. And ask her out. And kiss her behind closed doors. She seems to like him, but she’s also wary: Another woman on the staff, Claudia Graham, tells Roanna, “Ted Holland has a line from here to there and it’s a very charming one.” She ought to know, because she’s kissing him behind closed doors, too.

Claudia needn’t worry too much, though, because Roanna is determined not to marry until her kid brother, Kenny, finishes medical school. They are, of course, orphans, and she is paying his tuition and living expenses, so the two have sworn to live hermetically until he graduates, so as not to muddle their concentration on his studies. “I won’t waste my time or your money on girls or any other form of recreation,” he promised her when their parents died. (I did wonder why, if money was so tight, they bothered to pay for Roanna’s nursing school at all, since “once she was married, she wanted to stay home, raise a family, be a housewife.”) But oddly, Kenny has moved out of his boarding house and asked her for a loan of $100. What’s up with that?

Further complicating matters is Dr. Bill Benton, who proposes upon learning that Roanna is going dancing with Ted. In response, “she covered her ears with her hands and shook her head. ‘Please, Bill. Don’t say any more.’ ” Poor Bill. But she doesn’t have much time to think about this new development because longtime Holland customer Mrs. Tadmeier falls in the furs department and twists her ankle. Now she’s suing the store, and this could be the bad publicity that will drive all their customers over to that other department store. But detective Roanna soon deduces that Mrs. Tadmeier suffers from hypertension, which causes dizzy spells, and it was one of these that caused Mrs. Tadmeier to fall—not the scruffy carpet. Crisis averted!

Now all she has to do is persuade Ted to man up and talk to his father. “Did she dare say it? Did she dare give him that little push in the right direction? A man resented a woman trying to bend him to a mold. Was Ted weak or was he just groping?” Judging from his dates with Roanna, he seems to be both. But then Luther drops from another attack, and when she and Ted go to visit Luther in the hospital, Ted finally grows a spine and tells his father he is going to redo the store, and you just know that Holland’s will be saved. Another crisis averted!

Next, Kenny shows up and tells Roanna that he secretly got married and used that $100 for a honeymoon. She is pissed! “I’ve deliberately turned away from love, from getting involved! I’ve worked unbelievable hours! All for you, Kenny!” she shrieks. He stomps off, and she goes on a date with Ted, kissing him with new abandon. He seems to like the reckless Roanna and proposes. She’s going to think it over: “Ted could be the answer to all of her problems, even Kenny!” She runs into Bill, who is attending to Luther, long enough for him to tell her that she’s changed since she started working at Holland’s. It’s a pretty astute observation, considering that her crass attitude only erupted a dozen pages ago, but then, Bill’s a really great doctor.

For our next calamity, we learn that the town’s other hospital has caught on fire and that all the patients are being transferred to Rockwell General. Roanna, recognizing a dire emergency, goes back to work at the department store for half a day before visiting Ted’s office, where she finds him kissing Claudia. She resigns on the spot, telling him that she doesn’t really love him and that he and her job at Holland’s have just shown her that “I could never be happy being anything but a nurse at Rockwell General.” At least until she gets married, and that shouldn’t be long, either, because she’s come to realize that “it was Bill she loved!” She heads off to Rockwell, works for ten straight hours, then reports for duty on her regular night shift. She’s just writing a note to Kenny on her coffee break and enclosing her usual check by way of making up for being such a shrew when Bill stops by her table at the cafeteria. A page and a half sets them to rights, and then we can close the book.

Author Arlene Hale wants her heroine to be several things at once. Roanna is often strongly assertive and taking action, such as with the Mrs. Tadmeier situation and when she is trying to steer Ted and Luther back into each other’s arms. But the text of the book wants us to think she’s a mousy wimp, like when she’s wondering if she dares to encourage Ted to talk to his father or with her plans for abandoning nursing to become a housewife. We’re told several times that working at Holland’s has changed her, but right up until her showdown with Kenny, she’s worrying about Luther’s health and what is going on with Kenny, and telling herself that she likes Ted, “maybe more than just a little.” The never-ending plot twists in the book’s final 30 pages felt like a manic to-do list, with little enthusiasm or excitement. It’s sloppy and uninspired writing which, unfortunately, I have come to expect from Ms. Hale. Even more unfortunately, she was ridiculously prolific. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

  1. “If you make a woman stop being a woman, it will be a dull old world.” – Yeah, women, in respect to this quote, are very dynamic. And it still applies today. That’s one thing that amazes me about old writers. They wield accurate observations that still apply to the present time. Though vintage romances almost have the same flow, they’ve brought up unique and interesting personalities. Just like Roanna here.