Sunday, December 8, 2013

Doctor’s Choice

By Susan Lennox, ©1960

Dr. Bruce Morrow’s beautiful fiancée laughed when she heard the terms of his uncle’s will. “How utterly absurd,” Nina said. “Of course you are not going to bury yourself in a small Southern town and take over the running of a dinky hospital. Dad will build you one right here, if I ask him to.” Bruce knew Nina was right, of course, but he couldn’t help wondering about the pull he felt toward his late uncle’s home town, the hospital he had left him and Nurse Becky Roberts. He was in love with Nina all right, but he couldn’t help wondering why Becky was constantly on his mind and why his resolve to become a rich, big-city society doctor was weakening day by day.
“It’s a long road we travel, you know, and we can’t find happiness if we get on the wrong road.”
Another not-a-nurse-novel, Doctor’s Choice nonetheless attracted me for its great cover illustration by Robert Maguire. It’s too bad the story inside doesn’t follow through.
Dr. Bruce Morrow is about to marry Nina Neely (say that ten times fast), the spoiled, demanding, and wealthy daughter of his mentor and soon-to-be partner. But out of the blue an uncle, a general practitioner also named Bruce Morrow who works in the quaint Southern town of Maplesville, up and dies. His will leaves Bruce II a large home and captaincy of the local hospital, which Bruce I had endowed. Bruce II is committed to the indolent path he has chosen as society doctor, we are told repeatedly—but we also find out that Bruce holds “a desire long dormant and never fully admitted. Deep within his heart he had always had a desire to be a country doctor.” Furthermore, “he supposed he was in love with Nina,” a supposition that never bodes well for a couple’s long-term success.
Bruce decides to go to Maplesville as a courtesy, to sign away in person his rights to the estate, which will now fall to the uncle’s nurse, 24-year-old Becky Reynolds, who conveniently lives next door. He’s only planning to spend a day, but as it happens, he witnesses the car accident in which the perpetrator and victim is the spoiled, demanding, and wealthy daughter of the crooked mayor of Maplesville. Cheryl’s arm is crushed, and all the local doctors are voting for just lopping it off, but Cheryl would rather die than lose an arm. Bruce confesses that he’d assisted Dr. Neely in saving an arm in a similar case back home, so his 24-hour stay is dragged out to a couple of weeks while he doctors Cheryl and the other former patients of his uncle, with his trusty Nurse Becky at his side.
And you are not going to guess what happens!!! Bruce falls in love with Becky! But he’s one of those dopey types who thinks that he must go through with an unsatisfying career and marriage, and never mind that “the thought of a lifetime with a girl like Nina was very disturbing.” Though he finds “a richness, a contentment, a feeling of well-being here that he did not think he would find elsewhere,” “his sense of integrity would not let him” back out: “He had promised Dr. Neely; he was engaged to Nina; he couldn’t walk out and say he had changed his mind.” Will he come to his senses before book’s end? The tension about killed me!!!
Well, that was a little snarky, but it’s an irritating question to hang a book on. And you’ll never guess how it turns out!!! So OK, you will, and there’s no precipitating event or revelation that brings on Bruce’s complete about-face; he just walks into Dr. Neely’s office and blurts out the truth, and Dr. Neely just says, “If that’s what you want, don’t let anyone change your mind.” So he doesn’t even have to fight for what he wants, and there are no repercussions—apart from a bitter scene with Nina—that keep him from his intended career and bride. While the book isn’t badly written, and I mostly enjoyed the characters (although there is one bizarre detour in which Becky masquerades as someone else for a bit before she is found out, and this is never satisfactorily explained), in the end I was annoyed by both the book’s central “problem” and its resolution. If Bruce makes the right choice in the end by becoming a country practitioner, the choice you should make is to leave this one on the shelf.

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