Saturday, November 30, 2013

An American Nurse in Vienna

By Diane Frazer
(pseud. Dorothy Fletcher), ©1966

Cover illustration by Harry Bennett
When nurse Mary Tyler learned that she was being sent to Vienna, she was overjoyed. Cannister Memorial in New York had always seemed to her an exciting place. But all her life she had longed to see Europe. Besides, Franz Schneider, who also worked at Cannister Memorial, was to be one of the two doctors on the team. And Mary was secretly in love with him. Then in Vienna she met a young Hungarian baron who swept her off her feet. She had intended only to make Franz jealous. But soon she found that she was playing with fire.
“Who’s not married? I mean, of the doctors, that is. Among the nurses the percentage is heartbreakingly high, of course.”
“ ‘You have my best wishes. I’m rooting for you,’ Shirley said.
“ ‘Root for the Mets,’ Mary said. ‘They need it more than I do.’ ”
“Do you think I think that any man just wants to hold hands?”
“No man should be allowed to have eyelashes like that.”
Nurse Mary Tyler has been dating Austrian Dr. Franz Schneider, a neurosurgery fellow at Cannister Memorial Hospital, but it hasn’t gone well. Right out of the gate the two are rehashing an old argument: He claims she made an error at work by neglecting to give a patient a medication, and she says the medication was never written in the order book, and he says it was a verbal order, and she says he never gave her the order, that he was just mad because she’d come in five minutes late after inviting an old (male) friend from her home town to her apartment for dinner the night before. She says that only if they are married or engaged does he have the right to question her behavior, and he says her behavior went beyond acceptable standards. “He was horrid, simply horrid,” she thinks, and then agrees to have dinner with him.
Over veal parmagiana, she categorizes his faults: He’s exasperating, ponderous, elderly, very stuffy, critical, possessive, watchful. But the hospital is sending two doctors and two nurses to Vienna, and Franz is going, and he would like Mary to go. She agrees, if he will stay out of her life. But once they arrive, Franz offers to show her around and she accepts. Before long, they’re spending their days and their dinners together. Really, the quality about him she seems to admire is the fact that he’s not hard to look at. “He was so marvelous-looking, she thought. Like a dark Greek god.”
When she meets Otto, Franz’s childhood acquaintance and a now-impoverished Hungarian baron, she starts seeing him, and Franz sees red—and not just the color of Mary’s hair. Franz forbids Mary to go out with Otto, telling her that Otto is a wolf; you can guess how well that goes over. Now she refuses to see Franz at all, on the grounds that “he was a dictatorial and possessive and smothering personality, and if she allowed him to he would take over her life completely, and finally her mind.” Not only does Mary continue to see Otto, but she even recklessly accepts a dare: to cross over the iron curtain and visit Otto’s ancestral property in Hungary for an afternoon. Once there, Otto tells Mary that the border has been sealed for the evening and that they won’t be able to get back until the next day. Otto then makes a pass at Mary, but she fights him off, telling him that if he comes near her she will jump out the second-story window. The next day he coldly drives her, virtue intact, back to the hospital, but it’s clear he won’t be calling her again.
Franz finds out Mary’s been out all night with Otto, though, and he is furious. Now Mary is suddenly heartbroken: “She had thrown away her chances with Franz, played her cards stupidly, lost him,” she thinks. “Oh, yes, she loved him, loved him dreadfully, had always loved him, would continue to love him.” What?!? And there’s more: “She had always felt so safe with him, so protected against the world.” No, she had felt imprisoned by him, which is not the same thing at all. Franz refuses to accept her story, however, believing that she slept with Otto. So she resigns her post in Vienna and returns to the United States. When Franz returns a few weeks later, he takes her to dinner, where he tells her that although he really knew she had not slept with Otto, he was so angry that “I wanted to beat you.” What more is there to do but accept his ensuing proposal of marriage with an emphatic, “I guess so,” thinking that Franz is “the man to whom she had just given over her independence, and it came to her that it was a most desirable loss.”
I cannot stand a book that wants to have it both ways. The Franz we meet in the beginning of the book is a domineering, brooding, condescending ass, and Mary fights his attempts to subjugate her tooth and nail; as the book opens she had stopped seeing him because she could not tolerate his oppressive attempts to control her. Yet suddenly she can’t live without him, and willingly sacrifices her individuality for what will most likely become one of those marriages where if he doesn’t actually beat her, as he’s already expressed an interest in doing, he’ll keep her shut away in the house and refuse to allow her any contact with the outside world. This book is written in an engaging, lively style, and Mary was a character that I particularly liked—up until the end, anyway. When she becomes yet another spineless milquetoast who sells out for an engagement ring, it’s time to say Auf Wiedersehen.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

New England Nurse

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1956
Nurse Judy Andrews found life rewarding in her lovely, quiet, snowbound Vermont village. Engaged to Neal Bentley, whom she had known all her life, she was happily planning to be married in the spring. Overnight, her comfortable world changed. Curt Wiley, a handsome Texas engineer, came to town to build a ski resort on the mountain that Judy loved. By the first snowfall, the sleepy little town would be seething with activity. Judy hated Curt the moment she met him, hated this Texan who was charming all the women in town and was now turning that charm on her! Then, unaccustomed to the New England climate, Curt came down with pneumonia. As she nursed him back to health, Judy discovered that Curt was not the playboy he appeared to be, not just a fast-talking promoter, but a decent, sensitive human being who had a difficult job to do, and who seemed to be falling in love with her. Suddenly Neal Bentley seemed dull and uninteresting to Judy. By spring she had to make a decision. She had to choose between the rootlessness of a life as a construction man’s wife, or the steady, homespun love of her childhood sweetheart … a decision that was as much of a surprise to Judy as it will be to you.
“Judy was the kind of nurse one usually encountered only on the covers of a magazine. The majority of nurses turned out to be middle-aged specimens, often with a superior demeanor.”
“Meeting you, Miss Andrews—and knowing I’ll be seeing you again soon—has practically cured me!”
“Marriage is a woman’s goal—she wants to be a wife and mother. Yet she knows that, once she has taken this step, nothing will ever be the same again. With a man, it’s different. I guess that’s how it should be. It’s a woman who bears the children, my dear. And that’s what I meant when I said that marriage—children—makes a woman settle down, put others before herself, give up her own identity—to a certain degree, anyway.”
“Once they were married, all these anxieties would melt away as though they had never existed. There would never be any regrets.”
“A woman can handle a situation better if she knows she looks her best.”
Vermont nurse Judy Andrews has a problem common to VNRN heroines at book’s open: Her boyfriend is a dud. “Neal was so good looking that the sight of him ought to quicken any girl’s heart,” we learn in the second chapter. “Only of course she was so used to looking at him, that her blood pressure remained normal.” She’s not wild about kissing him, either; “Judy had taken Neal’s good-night kisses so much for granted that she had never thought much about them afterwards.” So needless to say, we are not optimistic about their future. When wealthy Neal Bentley proposes, she gives him a resounding, “I—I suppose so—”
Judy is partly disappointed because “romance seldom came as one dreamed of it. For Judy, like every other young girl, dreamed of an unknown prince who would one day sweep her off her feet and carry her away, if not on a white charger, at least to places she had never seen before.” But hold on to your hat, chicken, because look who’s coming down the road: Curt Wiley, in a “two-toned hard-topped job” with white-walled tires. He’s in town to build a ski resort on the town’s mountain, though Judy feels this will ruin both the town and the mountain she loves so much. But her initial bias against Curt soon turns, as Curt also seems to share her sentimental feelings toward the environment, telling her that “it seems a shame to spoil all this.” Now Curt is looking more attractive: “Curt seemed to have the same feeling about the mountain as she did. Neal would not understand it—for now that she faced it, all Neal thought of now was how he could personally profit by the changes that had come to their community.” When Curt tells her he is never going to be rich, she thinks “money was far too important to some people—for instance, to Neal.” And when Curt is invited for Christmas at her house, “Curt fitted in exceptionally well. Better, Judy found herself thinking, than Neal would have.”
And so it is not surprising that, when Curt kisses Judy under the mistletoe, it’s a kiss that Judy isn’t likely to forget, like one of Neal’s: “It left Judy weak and limp as a rag doll. It had been the kind of kiss she had dreamed about in those dreams concerning a prince who would come from out of nowhere to carry her away. She felt like the princess who had been awakened after a long sleep.” Though Curt has heretofore been set up as something of a flirt, he seems to be developing a certain fondness for Judy. At one point, when they are out on the mountain together, he says, “I want you to know that—I’m crazy about you.” In response, she kisses him. “It was not like the kiss beneath the mistletoe. But her whole heart was in it.”
Suddenly, though, the town Curt once found so charming is “this godforsaken place,” and he can’t wait to get out. He’s talking about going to South America to build bridges, and he tells her that he cares for her but can only offer her a vagabond life without much money. In the end, though, he asks her to consider going with him when he leaves Vermont in a few weeks. She thinks about what a dud Neal is, and all but tells Curt she doesn’t love Neal. In the pages in which she ponders her decision, the biggest sticking point seems to be that “there would be talk, lots of talk. The blame would all fall on Judy Andrews, a farmer’s daughter who had run away with a stranger.”
A few days later, Neal picks up Judy at work, and she is just on the brink of telling Neal that she won’t marry him after all, “that it was Curt she loved. That when he asked her, as she knew he would, she would have to go away with him.” At this point, Curt’s character undergoes a startling about-face. Up until now, we’ve believed that “Curt is a gentleman,” as Judy’s mother, who has struck up a good friendship with the young man, says. But now, ten pages from the end, Neal tells Judy that Curt run off with Cynthia. And now, as they pull up in front of Judy’s house, she’s changed her mind: “How could she ever have thought she could leave all this?” Neal, too, has become someone else; “there were depths within him that she had not recognized before. And they belonged together—they had been born and reared in the mountains, among folks of their own kind. How could she ever have thought she wanted anyone except Neal?” And even better, suddenly his kisses are “somewhat exciting!” How convenient.
The book has some curious attitudes about marriage, mainly that once married, a woman must no longer have any opinions or ideas that her husband didn’t come up with first. Shortly after Neal proposes, he tells her that they have to cut short their drive so he can have a chat with her father. “ ‘Whatever you say,’ Judy agreed. She wondered if this was how it would be for the rest of her life—whatever Neal decided would be all right with her. Or at least she would pretend that it was.” Later, when she contemplates the upcoming Christmas holiday, she realizes that this will be her last Christmas with her own family; “as Neal’s wife, it would be her duty to spend the Christmas holidays with his people, not hers. To Judy, not to be with her own family at Christmastime would be heartbreaking. Yet she supposed it was a sacrifice she must learn to be willing, even glad, to make.” She also thinks, “Marriage would mean the end of one’s personal freedom. Until then, you were not obligated to try to be what the other person wanted, or thought, you to be.” It sounds pretty grim to me. And not much like the heroine we come to know, “a young woman with a mind of her own.”
In the end, though Judy has maintained that she is in love with Curt, all that is brushed off for what is now painted as a deeper and enduring love for Neal. All we have heard throughout the book is what a self-centered, shallow bore he is, but abruptly we find that he is exactly what Judy wanted all along. If he doesn’t make her heart pound, we’re supposed to take a page from Judy’s mother, who at one point tells Judy that she’d considered running away the morning of her own wedding, but is now very content with her life. And so Judy too is suddenly happy to abandon her career (it is taken for granted that she will stop working after she is married), her opinions and identity, passion, and even true love—if we can believe what we have been told about her feelings for Curt—for an ordinary life with a man she seems to look on as a not very interesting companion. I was annoyed at Judy’s change of heart, and I was annoyed that with Curt’s conversion at the last minute into a felonious Lothario (it’s a crime to transport a minor across state lines), she never even made a choice of her own; removing Curt from the picture took even that away from her. Though we are left with the impression that Judy is going to live happily ever after with her true prince, Neal, it sounds more like a prison sentence to me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New Doctor at Tower General

By John J. Miller, ©1964
Cover illustration by Bob Stanley
It was love at first sight when Surgical Nurse Evelyn Taylor encountered handsome Dr. Hank Young, who came to Tower General with an emergency operation. Right from the start, they seemed to be a team—professionally. Privately, Hank seemed to be more interested in the glamour and glitter of Louise Hayden, daughter of Dr. Dan Hayden, Chief of Surgery. Evelyn knew she couldn’t compete with Louise’s obvious attractions. She could only hope that Hank would see through her superficiality before it was too late. Meanwhile, Evelyn had to go on working beside Hank, assisting him in the dramatic fight for life at every operation, trying to control her emotions when he praised her for her efficiency as a nurse and went on ignoring her desirability as a woman.
“She was too beautiful to die, even if she did drive like a darned fool.”
“Can’t some doctor ever get to this hospital on time?”
“Would you rather kiss me—or spank me?”
“Like all advice, no matter how true, each man usually had to learn his own lesson, the hard way.”
This is another not-a-nurse-novel that made it into the pile. Our hero is Dr. Henry J. Young, M.D., D.A.C.S. (Diplomate of the American College of Surgeons), as we are introduced in the first paragraph. You can bet when we are introduced to the OR Supervisor, we don’t even get the RN after her name; instead we are told that “Miss” Evelyn Taylor is known as “Elusive Evelyn.” She’s calm, cool, and collected when he comes barreling into the OR with a car crash victim with a shard of glass embedded in her heart, and he condescends to thinking that Evelyn is “remarkable” and “competent,” but needless to say he won’t give her another thought after he meets Louise Hayden, daughter of the chief of surgery: “Long blond hair, a youthful line of bangs partially hiding her high forehead, warm blue-green eyes, long legs and beautifully proportioned figure; they were all part of one breathtakingly beautiful picture.” The shallow bastard.
Now, I shouldn’t be catty. Louise is actually a fine person, which is not usually the case with these not-to-be first girlfriends. She’s 13 years younger than Hank, though, a senior in college at “Swarton,” a rich-girls’ school outside of Boston. She spends her summer attending parties with Hank, and two months later, just as she’s about to go back to school, the couple actually kisses, which means that it’s time to “make plans,” apparently for their wedding. I continue to be amazed at the speed with which these VNRN pairs move, and only pray that it wasn’t really like that in the 1960s.
It’s Hank’s professional duties, however, that make up the bulk of the story. He’s been brought in from Los Angeles County Hospital after extensive training in cardiovascular surgery to whip the surgical residency program at Tower General, somewhere in the Midwest, into shape. It’s a political battle that involves numerous doctors and a board of trustees and different alliances and warring factions, and I won’t bore you with all that, but suffice to say that Hank’s chief nemesis through all his efforts turns out to be his Chief, Dr. Dan Hayden, father of his fiancée. Dr. Hayden just hates change, and vows to keep it out of his hospital to the best of his ability, at least until his daughter winds him around her finger and he relents for her sake.
Then Amos Cole comes in: He’s 54 but looks 65, with a clogged artery in his heart. At the time this book was written, this means increasingly limited activity until the ole ticker just gives out. But Hank had been working in Los Angeles on a new, pioneering surgical technique that would remove the clot from the hardened cardiac artery and restore the patient to good health. Except for one thing: Of the 18 cases they’d done, 14 died on the table, two survived but had no improvement, and two were “cured.” “If the mortality seems terribly high,” Hank explains, “remember they would all have been dead very soon—if we hadn’t done the surgery. We saved two.” Well, says the suicidal Amos, sign me up!
Now the lines in the sand are drawn and deep: Dr. Hayden, who had been warming to Hank, tells him if Amos dies, he will have Hank fired. Louise, caught between two men she loves, is in a tough position, as each of them lies to her in their attempts to win her loyalty: Her father tells her, “He didn’t care about you or me. He was more interested in stealing a patient than he was in my good will or your love,” and Hank tells her that her father “made a mistake on the course of treatment of Amos Cole, and isn’t enough of a man to admit it.” Well, advising against a surgery with an 80 percent mortality rate isn’t a mistake, it’s a judgment call, and Hank, who’s spent the past three years at a research hospital, ought to know the difference.
Louise, young and afraid, tries to talk Hank out of the surgery, and when he balks, she tells him that they’re over, and that she will drag Evelyn’s name through the mud—Hank has gone out for spaghetti a few times with Evelyn, purely on a platonic basis, much to rejected Evelyn’s chagrin. Hank tells Evelyn before Amos’ surgery the next morning that she may be the subject of some vicious gossip, but Evelyn is not upset, she’s thrilled! Because this means that he and Louise are over, and now she has a shot! Hank, too, is suddenly looking at Evelyn with new eyes: “He couldn’t help contrasting her calm assurance of his ability to Louise’s performance of the night before. How could he have been so blind?
You’ll not be shocked to hear that the operation goes off without a hitch. Louise tries to make up with Hank, but he essentially dumps her by telling her that he’s moving to New York, knowing that she will never leave the Midwest and her father. After the surgery, he celebrates with Evelyn at their Italian restaurant, and asks her to come to New York with him and be his scrub nurse—not quite the proposal she was hoping for, but as the book closes, she knows the real one will be hers one day, as well.
Told from the doctor’s point of view and written by a man, this book lacks the deft touch of some female VNRN writers who bestow more subtlety of feeling upon their characters. Louise is a carefree, vivacious dish—and if she’s not shallow or stupid, she’s not a rich or nuanced character. Evelyn is either heartbroken or efficient. Hank, it must be confessed, is usually angry, unless he’s in raptures over Louise. Hank’s outings with his friend Mike to play handball lack the gentle fondness or the attitude of conviviality that surrounds a night out with the girls in a Lucy Agnes Hancock story. Now, perhaps it’s not fair to chalk up mediocrity of writing to the author’s gender—lord knows, there are plenty of bad women VNRN authors—but none of the gents (Dan Ross, Jean Webb, Richard Wilkes-Hunter) have ever been able to create the same sweetness that Jeanne Judson, Faith Baldwin, Lucy Agnes Hancock, and Maud McCurdy Welch regularly whip up. Just saying. Even if this book were a true VNRN, it’s more concerned about political maneuvering at the hospital than it is in Hank as a person, and so I didn’t find it all that interesting.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nurse in Love

By Jane Arbor, ©1953
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik

What is a woman to do when she finds herself in love with a man who not only does not love her but has been cruelly prejudiced against her even before they met? The problem is made more difficult when they are brought together every day by their work as nurse and doctor. Kathryn’s solution was to take refuge behind a façade of pride—but she found it a very inadequate defence.


This book was among the handful I acquired in my first purchase of VNRNs, yet it has remained unread all these years, due in part to its shabby condition and odd cover illustration. It may well be, however, the best of that initial lot (which also included Dr. Merry’s Husband, Congo Nurse, and Nurse Kathy). Kathryn Clare is a 25-year-old nurse on the children’s ward at Wardrop Hospital in Surrey. In her past is one declined proposal, from Dr. Steven Crendall, for whom she felt nothing but friendship when he asked her to marry him before leaving for a post in Nigeria. His heart was broken, and his catty and beautiful sister Thelma assiduously circulated the idea that it was this that led him to contract a tropical disease and return home in some disgrace, having been revealed as not made of stern enough stuff to succeed overseas.

Now there’s a new MD on the ward, Adam Breve, whom Kathryn meets for the first time when coming to the aid of a five-year-old boy who has been hit by a bus. She rushes in to keep uninformed Samaritans from moving the child and possibly injuring his spine, only to be rudely chastised by Dr. Breve, who pushes his way in and sharply lectures her about “the public’s well-meant efforts with accidents” and tells her, “You can rarely leave ill alone, but must do your misinformed best to make it worse,” before patronizingly instructing her to run off and call for an ambulance. The next day on the ward—though he doesn’t even recognize her, much less apologize for his rude assumptions—he is brusque, but she is inexplicably smitten: “She was seeing him not now so much as a welcome colleague as with an instant’s electric awareness of him as a man.”

He is soon revealed as Steven Crendall’s best friend, so he despises Kathryn on sight for her rejection of Steven, clearly believing Thelma’s lies that Kathryn had encouraged Steven but turned him down because she did not want to live in Africa. Kathryn, insulted by Adam’s rude judgment and verbal assault, is too proud to tell him her true, noble reason for declining Steven—that she did not love him. She continues to adore Adam, however, though he ill deserves her: “She loved a man whose friendship and understanding thought might be for others, but were rarely for her. From her he kept them as private territories to be guarded with words that were edged with reserve, and even with scorn. He did not love her in return. He merely despised her.”

Thelma, a divine shrew, is meanwhile plotting to win Adam for herself and even push Kathryn back to Steven so as to dispose of a rival for Adam’s affections. Steven is offered another position, this time in South Africa with the deliciously named Sir Pirbright Chaffen, and Thelma works the gossip mill like a seasoned professional to get Steven to accept the post and take Kathryn with him; Adam believes the wild rumors and coldly insists that Kathryn accept Steven should he propose again.

Misunderstanding compounds misunderstanding, fortified by pride and prejudice, and you wonder how all is going to come to rights in the end. But it does, of course, and rewardingly so, to the point where I can almost overlook the fact that I did not like Adam Breve one bit in the book’s first 75 pages or so. Fleshing out the story are the trials of Kathryn’s friends, who are a largely comfortable, enjoyable lot, and the viciously fabulous Thelma. If there are no Best Quotes, author Jane Arbor has a quiet, pleasant, and occasionally humorous writing style, which I also encountered in My Surgeon Neighbour (though I found the plot there less satisfying). If it’s not a firecracker of a story, it’s certainly thoroughly enjoyable, and makes for a comfortable afternoon in a cozy chair.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nurse Melinda

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1960
Nurse Melinda Bonner once hotly declared to her supervisor that she had enough love for all children—inside the hospital and out. But one shy, dark little boy—an orphan, with only a stern guardian for a family—had a special place in her affections. The strange circumstances under which little Pietro was brought to the hospital, and the unusual interest shown in the child by the dazzling movie star, Peter Fife, puzzle Melinda, and plunge her into an absorbing drama of human relations and emotions. What ensues taxes not only her skill as a nurse, but her heart.
“ ‘You look as fresh and gay as a sprig of white lilac on a spring day,’ the nurse told her, and added grimly, ‘Well, we’ll put a stop to that in short order.’ ”
“Well, I gotta hop down to the airport and pick up a package. And what a package! Really stacked, Chet, my boy—really stacked!”
When we first meet Nurse Melinda Bonner, she is on the job on the pediatric orthopedics ward, and a 12-year-old boy has just offered up “a very creditable wolf whistle.” Does she respond with a stern lecture about respect and appropriate behavior? “ ‘Why, thank you, Tommy,’ she said brightly. ‘That’s very flattering.’ ” I am old enough to remember the days when men—construction workers, mostly—would whistle at you, and I found it only creepy.
After this, though, Melinda firmly establishes herself as a woman with convictions and backbone steady enough to stand up for them. In fact, on the third page, she’s been called into the office of hospital Chief Dr. Grayle and dressed down for hugging five-year-old Pietro Gardella, recovering from a clubfoot repair. This, she is told, violates the hospital’s number-one rule: Don’t get involved with a patient. Pietro is an orphan being raised by a guardian, so if the boy becomes too attached to Melinda, Dr. Grayle says, “When he leaves here, he will grieve himself sick for you.” But Melinda refuses to promise she will stop being affectionate to her young charges: “I feel very sure that gentleness and affection and understanding of their small problems are as important to their recovery as all your medical skill,” she tells him. “I assure you, Doctor, I have enough love in my heart to embrace every child in the hospital—and out of it, too!” Her devotion to children is so great that even when they get a “spoiled rotten stinker,” Melinda defends them as “scared,” insisting they will “settle down,” and tells her co-workers they should never call their patients “brat.”
When she meets Mrs. Lansdowne, Pietro’s guardian, she’s more convinced than ever that she’s right to shower little Pietro with love: His guardian is “quite cold” and has visited the boy only once, to tell him that his “wretched” kitten, “a nasty, messy nuisance,” has disappeared and was probably run over. Melinda is horrified by this “old witch,” who, she tells Dr. Grayle, clearly terrifies Pietro and cares not a whit for him. It breaks Melinda’s heart to think that Pietro must go home to this “stern, self-righteous” ogre, but what can be done?
Then teen heartthrob Peter Fife visits the floor to take publicity photos of him handing out toys to sick children. Melinda, far from being impressed, is disgusted at the disturbance to the hospital routine and the way that the children are being used to further Peter’s image. But when Peter reaches little Pietro’s bed, he is suddenly transfixed by the boy. The two begin speaking in Italian, and Peter orders the photographers away. After bonding with Pietro, he asks Melinda to dinner. Though she despises him and everything he stands for, she agrees only because she loves Pietro, and over dinner at his house later, Peter explains that he is actually Pietro’s father—which comes as no surprise to the reader. He’d been in Italy shooting a film and fallen in love with a young Italian woman there. They’d secretly married, but Angelina’s family had spirited her away when they found out about it. Peter had been unable to find her, and had not even known she was pregnant. Then he was drafted into the Army, and when he got out years later he hired private investigators, who’d learned that Angelina had died in childbirth and that his son had been placed in the care of a guardian and was in the U.S. for treatment for a club foot. He’d been combing the pediatrics wards of American hospitals ever since, in the event that his son might turn up there. Now through the miracles of bad plotting they’ve found each other, but Peter has no proof that he is Pietro’s father, so he can’t just claim the lad outright. But if only Melinda will marry him, he will be able to adopt the boy and they can all live happily ever after!
She emphatically declines, thankfully, but curiously tells Peter, “I am sure Miss Lansdowne loves Pietro and is good to him,” though she herself has seen first-hand that neither one is true. She adds, “A nurse would be of very little value to a hospital if she went around giving out bits of her heart to every child who comes under her care.” Exactly what we’re supposed to make of her lies and hypocrisy is unclear.
In the next few weeks Peter visits Pietro often—remember, these are the days when patients stayed in the hospital for months—and his devotion begins to melt Melinda’s frost. Eventually Pietro is healed and sent off to Florida with “grim” Miss Lansdowne, and Melinda’s cries as she never does when patients go home to “loving families, people I know will be kind and gentle.” Again, curiously, she tells Peter afterward, that Miss Lansdowne is, “I’m sure, devoted to Pietro.” Down in Florida, however, it isn’t long before Pietro runs away: He climbs into a car idling by his house and is unceremoniously dumped out by the road when he is discovered, then found by a poor family and taken in as “a Wop kid” abandoned by “fruit tramps.” When Peter hears that Pietro is missing, he uses his stardom to get the boy’s picture—as well as the news that he is Pietro’s father, which Miss Lansdowne immediately publicly affirms, nullifying Peter’s original concerns that he would never obtain custody of Pietro if he just asked—plastered on every front page in the country. Pietro is found shortly, and goes off with Peter to Idaho for a month while Peter films a movie.
The Petes, junior and senior, visit Melinda when they return from location, and something terrible has happened: In a few short weeks, Pietro is now “a spoiled, self-satisfied, arrogant little boy.” Now Melinda is Miss Lansdowne’s biggest fan: “It does seem a shame for you to tear down in three weeks all that Miss Lansdowne did in five years, to make him into a charming, well-behaved little boy,” she tells Peter. She goes on an outing with them, and decides never to see them again: “I’m fond of Pietro—that is, I was! But the kind of little boy he is now—no, thanks!” I can hardly believe this is the same woman who defended the brats on her ward in Chapter 1. She and Peter have a huge fight about child-rearing, but it’s side-tracked when she admits that she is in love with Peter, after all—did anyone else see that coming?—but can’t marry him because “I wouldn’t stand by and see you turn Pietro into a mean, nasty, spoiled brat—not after Miss Lansdowne did such a fine job.” Really? Instead of agreeing that Melinda’s admittedly sound ideas about discipline are correct, Peter wakes Pietro up and uses the boy—as he refused to do for his publicity shots in the beginning of the book—to convince Melinda to marry him. She melts, and now the three are a happy family, and all is right with the world.
As I have adopted the cover illustration on this book for my own blog’s banner, I had a lot invested in this book. And initially, when Melinda is a spunky, spirited, right-minded gal and her fellow nurses are witty and sharp, I was very pleased with it. The writing also has fine moments, such as, “Melinda made a flying clutch at her self-control and only just managed to catch it.” But the story becomes overly bogged down with Peter’s backstory (we are also treated to the tragic saga of how he ended up a famous singer, the poor thing, which I have mercifully spared you) and the lengthy search for Pietro. Furthermore, Melinda’s total about-face on showing affection to all children and her opinion of Miss Lansdowne is bewildering and annoying. The plot has more holes than a colander, and we’re left with the impression that getting married is somehow going to solve Peter and Melinda’s disagreements over Pietro’s upbringing. Furthermore, the issue of how Melinda is going to respond to being cast into the enormous spotlight of fame that Peter lives in (screaming mobs of girls literally claw him when he goes out in public), when she has strenuously objected to it all through the book, remains unaddressed as well. If author Peggy Gaddis had finished the book in the same vein in which she started it, I would be mighty pleased; as it ends, I am not.