Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nurse Carol

By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1955
Carol Gabrielson, one of the prettiest student nurses at Riverview Memorial, was about to be graduated when Dr. Steve Barrett returned to the hospital to be resident physician—and her own boss. Steve had helped her through her first student days, and now that he was back, her world seemed wonderfully complete. At least it was until she learned he was to marry lovely Angela Ashby, daughter of the head of Riverview. Carol threw herself into her work with increased dedication, but despite her demanding job and the attentions of other attractive men, she couldn’t stop thinking about Steve—somehow he didn’t look like a man in love, but a man troubled by a dark secret …
“I’m having a nervous breakdown, or perhaps I’m falling in love. The symptoms are similar, aren’t they?”
“Honey, your figure is something you read about in the ads.”
“If you weren’t so darn pretty, I’d be mad at you.”
“Maybe it looked that way, but she wasn’t trying the old trick of domesticity and good food to get a man away from another girl.”
“All women are alike when it comes to men. There’s only one.”
“You think coffee can solve all the problems of the universe.”
Carol Gabrielson has such a cumbersome last name that the staff calls her “Miss G,” and one recurring joke is the string of patients who always manage to mangle it. The 1950s were such simple times; what would they have made of Zbigniew Brzezinski? But somehow Carol manages to stagger along under the weight of such a burden. She’s doing better at book’s open because her childhood friend, Dr. Steve Barrett, has come back to the hospital after a year’s absence, about which he will say nothing, and not only because no one, including his dear friend Carol, ever seems to have tried asking him where he was. She’s just graduated from the nursing school, and has started working as a private duty nurse because she wasn’t asked to join the staff, though everyone wanted her and is very upset that she wasn’t. It turns out that the chief of staff’s daughter, who is maneuvering to marry Steve and is jealous of his brotherly attentions to Carol, somehow managed to block her hire. It does make me concerned for the hospital’s future that they let a non-employee barely out of her teens make these sorts of decisions.
But Carol lands on her feet when she takes an apartment with fellow nurse Lora Breck, a mopey sort who appears unstable and is given to staring off into space and saying things like, “Love can—can make you go a little crazy.” We watch the young ladies renovate their new home into a pleasant retreat complete with a parakeet named Pip that sings songs and talks—he’s quite a parakeet! From here they set off for this job and that job, Carol all the while trying to fend off the wealthy, persistent cad Bill Lennox, who keeps insisting that she marry him. One of her patients is the difficult Mrs. Perrin, who after a few days of wearing Carol to rags takes a terrible turn. Her son Andrew is called in from San Francisco—and he turns out to have been Lora’s fiancé at one time, but Lora had broken the engagement because his domineering mother objected to the match. Though Andrew tries to win Lora back, Lora plans to marry another man she’s been seeing, a worthless check who is minutes away from being indicted on fraud charges.
Carol, meanwhile, is growing increasingly jealous of the catty Angela, who snubs Carol at every opportunity. The pair’s engagement is finally announced in the papers, and Carol is forced to admit to herself that—gasp!—she’s in love with Steve! But I shouldn’t poke too much fun, because here the “shocking” revelation that has been clear to us from page one actually plays out with sincerity and comes across as far less contrived as it does in most other VNRNs.
I need say no more about the plot, as it plays out predictably. Even the reason for Steve’s disappearance is something you probably guessed at. But if it is obvious, I was relieved to find that author M.M. Welch managed to find a different plot here, as the other two books I have read, Nurses Marry Doctors and Country Nurse, shared the same one. And it’s a pleasant read: There are the occasional witticisms along the way, such as when Steve asks Carol, “I suppose you’d call that—er, contraption on your head a hat, or wouldn’t you?” and she replies, “If it isn’t, somebody gypped me out of ten dollars and tax.” The gentle, amiable air of most VNRNs from the 1950s, including Ms. Welch’s prior two, pervades this book as well, and Carol’s comings and goings are enjoyable to watch. Even if it won’t land on the Best Novels list on January 1, 2015, you could do a lot worse than spend an afternoon with Nurse Carol.

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