Saturday, October 5, 2013

Northwest Nurse

By Arlene Fitzgerald, ©1964
A torrent of excitement raced through her, as his lips met hers in a firm, gentle kiss. Holly Doran, R.N., had come to Oregon on a temporary assignment, but she found something much more permanent there—a town of people she cared about, and a wonderful young doctor named Key Catrell. There was only one problem—a handsome psychiatrist back in San Francisco who expected her to return to him, and with good reason—he was her fiancé.
“She lowered her own eyes, thinking that the man could very well be a mental case, with eyes like that.”
So for starters—the doctor’s name is Key? Really? Who comes up with names like this? Well, Arlene Fitzgerald, apparently (though Peggy Gaddis is also notorious for giving her men nouns and adjectives for names; see Blade in Doctor Sara, Gray of Leota Foreman, R.N., and Bland of A Nurse for Apple Valley). But this is just the least of this sad book’s flaws.
One VNRN device that really ticks me off is the nurse engaged to a man she frequently claims to love but who is clearly—even in her own eyes—a bit of an ass. We wade deeply into that ploy on the fourth page, when Holly Doran, who has decided to spend the summer nursing in a rural coastal town in Oregon, remembers her fiancé declaring that “no young doctor would be fool enough to stick himself off up there in the Oregon boondocks, when there are countless city pigeons to be plucked.” In case that clue isn’t enough, we are shortly told that “her engagement to Dr. Brian Merdahl had proved to be a disappointment. Somewhere along the way, the sweetness and light had gone out of their romance. For her, at any rate.”
Indeed, her very motivation for taking some time away from Brian is so that she can “evaluate her true feelings for him. A woman shouldn’t feel fear, when the man she loved wanted to make love to her.” In the first place, if she has enough doubt that she needs time out from the relationship before they’re even married, it seems clear that it’s time to return the ring (which she’s actually left at her parent’s house for her little vacation). The second problem with this statement is that just one of Holly Doran’s irritating characteristics is that she is afraid of everything. Within the span of six pages, Holly “shouldn’t feel fear,” “a sudden horror constricted her throat,” she’s “stifling a feeling of panic,” “she clamped the feeling of panic with firm nurse’s discipline,” “the sudden fright had squeezed around her throat,” “she felt queasy inside, with a gnawing little fear that she refused to recognize.” Among the many, many things that Holly is afraid of, beyond sex with her fiancé, is a tidal wave washing away the coastal village, a car-smuggling ring that’s known to be working along this area of Oregon, and sexual assault; of that list, only one thing doesn’t actually happen, so in addition to being overly fearful, Holly demonstrates some impressive psychic abilities.
And if she can’t bring herself to get frisky with Brian, she’s certainly thinking about Key in ways that most chaste VNRN heroines wouldn’t begin to consider until they’re safely married: “She wanted more than a scolding from the tall, handsome man who looked like a deck hand, and who, she admitted to herself, had stirred something that lay deep inside her, like a seed ready to burst forth with new life.” “The feeling of pleasure stayed with her, as she moved about the small, clean office, involving a part of her that was all woman; all longing, with a yearning that Dr. Brian Merdahl had not, with all of his suave utterances of love, been quite able to satisfy.” My, my.
Which leads me to point out that Arlene describes her two female leads using language far more provocative than I’ve seen in any other VNRN, the exception being the other Arlene Fitzgerald book I’ve read, Young Nurse Rayburn. Which is fine, except that it’s badly done, repetitive, and incongruous, such as when “in the next instant, her eagerness turned to stone, beneath her small, round breasts.” Arlene is too fond of the word “ripe,” which she uses most absurdly when Holly is “popping the crisp bacon between her ripe lips.” Arlene’s other favorite word is “voluptuous,” one she sprinkles liberally over Holly’s competition for Key’s affections: “the voluptuous woman’s soft, ripe exterior,” “the voluptuous redhead” “had the kind of bold, voluptuous looks that drew male eyes like a magnet.” Even if it is supposed to be racy, I just can’t find a thrill in badly written prose.
Beyond trashy, Arlene’s prose is excessively florid, and she proves herself to be overly fond of commas, and I can illustrate both propensities with the book’s opening sentences: “The road swooped above the vast Pacific, following the flounced contours of the Coast Range. Then, just as suddenly, it dipped down to a broad harbor, formed by the wide mouth of a river that curved back from the sea, deceivingly silent, as smooth and shiny as a satin ribbon, between high, green mountains.” I tell you, 144 pages never seemed so long, unless it was in Dante’s Inferno, but I think that was only 70 pages and written in stanzas, so it had a lot fewer words.
I usually devote some time in these reviews to the story itself, but why bother? You’ll spend so much time fuming over the bad writing, lazy plotting, and innumerable commas (well, maybe you’re not as passionate about commas as I am) that the story line is immaterial. I had really looked forward to this book (missing the fact that this was penned by the same author as the one who gave us the D+ Young Nurse Rayburn), based entirely on the fantastic cover illustration. Will I ever learn? After Northwest Nurse has so emphatically driven home the complete dissociation between the quality of the cover and that of the story within, at long last I just might.

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