Thursday, January 23, 2014

Down East Nurse

By Sylvia Lloyd 
(pseud. , ©1965
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig
Also published as Dr. Walkers People
Lovely, city-bred Claudia Snowden came to Maine to nurse her aging aunt—isolated in a remote New England village. Expecting to find an old-fashioned doctor using outmoded methods, Claudia found herself working instead with young, handsome Dr. Adams—who was as dedicated as the top-notch physicians she had worked with in the city… so dedicated that Claudia apparently could not tear his attention away from his work to herself. Should she abandon all hope of ever reaching this aloof doctor and say yes to the man who really needed her?
When we first meet Claudia Snowden, she’s standing in her rich great-aunt’s over-decorated living room in Reachwood, Maine, evaluating the contents for its monetary value (she doesn’t find it) and wondering, “Where was the Snowden money?” She’s been dispatched to this godforsaken backwoods to care for old Elizabeth Snowden, an aging spinster with pneumonia, by her widowed mother in the hope of securing a prominent position in the old bag’s will. But Claudia is not the best option for a special nurse. Upon graduating, she had decided that “she wanted no more of bedside nursing” and had gone to work for an upscale specialist where patients pass quickly through, and “there was no feeling of involvement of responsibility.” She is full of scorn for the country doctor who has not admitted Elizabeth to the hospital, particularly because “when she met a man for the first time, she took for granted that instantaneous spark of interest and admiration in his eyes”—and the look the good Dr. Adam Walker bestows upon Claudia is rather one of scorn. Indeed, he dresses her down for criticizing his treatment plan, telling her that “Miss Libby” has refused hospitalization.
So Claudia is stuck in Maine, caring for Aunt Elizabeth. The only friend she has in an unctuous unsuccessful self-proclaimed artist, Chase Carpenter, though “the challenge of capturing Dr. Walker’s interest still remained.” Chase is entertaining, but Claudia has her doubts about him: He leaves his two boys, ages 7 and 8, at home alone; he refuses to pay Dr. Walker’s bill when one of his sons was ill; he shows no compassion for the poor. But when he finally kisses her, she is “astonished” to find that she enjoyed it. “Had she fallen in love at last?” Uh, no, dear. That’s just your glands talking.
She’s certainly not impressed with the townsfolk, who, though they regularly drop by with a bucket of milk or a cold ham for Miss Libby, aren’t warm and embracing. Indeed, Claudia finds them taciturn and coldly aloof, narrow-minded and insular. So when Aunt Elizabeth is clearly on the mend, Claudia is about to blow town when Chase falls out of the loft where he paints and shatters his leg, requiring surgery. He refuses to go to the hospital, however, unless Claudia stays with him morning and night. To get him to go, she agrees, thereby cementing his idea that she is in love with him, loudly proclaiming to every patient and healthcare professional that Claudia is “his girl,” much to her chagrin. Oddly, however, she doesn’t seem able to correct him on that score. But at the short-staffed hospital she helps out when she’s not rubbing Chase’s back, and manages to make herself useful, even coming to feel attached to a few of the patients.
Then comes the unfolding of a commonplace plot: Adam is cold to Claudia because he thinks she’s engaged to Chase, and she can’t bring herself to tell him—or Chase—that she’s not. It’s one of the more idiotic turns, because it seems utterly ludicrous that she can’t just open her mouth and start talking. But the book is largely redeemed by the way it presents her gradual unbending into a less grasping and materialistic individual into a caring, conscientious professional and human being. I also appreciated that Adam is always depicted as an admirable person; his initial disdain for Claudia is well-deserved and we know it, so we are spared another VNRN convention that I cannot stand, the complete ass presented as a dreamboat. The ending hits a small rough patch, though, with a dark secret from Adam’s past revealed but never really resolved. If the writing gives us nothing for the Best Quotes category, it goes down easy, and overall this is a pleasant enough book.

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