Sunday, May 4, 2014

Nurse Christy

By Isabel Stewart Way, ©1968
For Christine “Christy” Merrill, life couldn’t be more wonderful. She had her job as an orthopedic nurse at City General, and she had Paul … Paul Edfield whom she’d known and loved all her life. And one day soon, she and Paul would have their dream come true; he would finish his doctor’s training and open his own practice and she would be his nurse. But that day, suddenly, wasn’t coming soon enough … for Paul. He saw Christy, young, lovely, “wasting” herself, waiting for him. And suddenly Paul decided no more waiting, no more med school. He would take a good job he’d been offered, and he and Christ would be married. But to Christy this was a betrayal of everything they had hoped and planned for … and for the first time she looked at Paul and asked herself if this was the man she wanted to marry … or some stranger she had never really known?
“I’m glad we ate early before we have to start worrying a lot.”
I was initially tempted to write this book off as having one of the stupider heroines I’ve met, but now that I think about it, I’m considering putting it in the “You’ve come a long way, baby” category. From a vantage point of almost 50 years into the future, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between what we now see as backward cultural expectations and a lack of intelligence.
Nurse Christy Merrill, long engaged to medical school student Paul Edfield, is patiently looking for the day three years from now when Paul will finish school and his intern year and they will be able to marry. When he’s finally done with residency, they will move out to the country and start a GP practice together. Paul is working his way through school as a pharmacist, but the waiting and the struggling is killing him, so he tells Christy that he’s going to drop out of medical school and take a job selling drugs with a pharmaceutical company in California—which means they can get married right away and move to Los Angeles! Because being married to Christy is much more important to him than being a doctor!
Christy is more than a little flabbergasted in this big change of plan, and by the fact that Paul has already signed a contract when he decides to fill her in on his plans. “A man has to do what he thinks is best,” he explains, “without asking anybody else to share the blame if things go wrong.” Christy, horrified, tells him, “You had no right! It’s my life, too!” Which is absolutely true. The funny thing is that Christy acknowledges several times in this book that she doesn’t even really like nursing: “Nursing doesn’t mean a thing to me anymore! I wanted to be a nurse because of Paul’s plans.” Even if Paul’s new job means she would be quitting her job to raise babies, that’s no consolation; the real blow is that Paul is “cheating himself like this, sacrificing his whole future to marry her sooner,” she thinks. “He had thrown it all away in a terrible useless gesture.” It seems she wants Paul to be a doctor more than he does, so she refuses to marry him, and he drives off into the sunset.
She immediately has second thoughts, but it’s too late. “She wanted to write him, to phone him, but how could she do that, when she was not sure that he really wanted her?” He’s told her to call him in California if she needs him, but this is not invitation enough for dopey Christy, who points out that Paul did not tell her to call him if she changed her mind, just if she “needed” him, “and the office phone number was just to call in case of any emergency!” Good point. So she mopes around for endless pages, whispering to herself, “Paul! Paul! Call me again!”
And dating Tommy Treonne, indolent son of a wealthy businessman, on the side. Tommy is soon proposing marriage, and mentions that he’d talked about it with his parents before popping the question. “Somehow, it rankled, as if he had discussed every phase of this matter with his family,” curiously enough. Later, when a hurricane is bearing down on the Texas town, Tommy comes to pick up Christy and flee the county, telling her that this is what his father had advised they do. “You asked him? You made somebody else decide for you?” You see where this is going, but I didn’t see her point—asking for advice from your family is, after all, essentially what she had wanted Paul to do and why she’s angry with him, for “not even talking things out, making all the decisions, with no discussion with her ahead of time.” Now suddenly discussion is a bad thing? Yes, it is, and she writes Paul a note, telling him, “I was wrong. A man should make his own decisions and stand by them all the way through.” Yuck.
Now we have the kind of ending that Peggy Gaddis is fond of employing: The hero admits he was wrong, but the heroine decides, no, she was wronger! Paul, concerned for Christy’s safety after the hurricane, returns to town and tells her, “You had a right to help decide our future, because it was as much yours as mine.” But Christy throws her gains away, saying, “My future belongs to you. All I want is to be with you always!” If this doesn’t make you vomit, the book’s final treacly sentence will finish the job for you. So what do you think? Is Christy a moron, or a victim of a sexist time that urged women to disregard their personal desires and careers for a husband? Maybe both, but either way, it adds up to a book—and a heroine—that are just irritating, and not worth reading.

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