Monday, May 26, 2014

Star Lansing−Arizona Doctor

By Ruth McCarthy Sears, ©1971
Cover illustration by Gordon Johnson

Young and lovely Dr. Star Lansing loved the wild Arizona country where she was born and raised. Here she dedicated herself to helping the poor but proud local Indian tribe, raising needed funds by treating wealthy patients at the exclusive Desert City spa. But Star faced an agonizing crisis of loyalty when dashing Air Force Colonel Whittaker Blake swept her off her feet. Whit was determined to install a missile site in the area, despite heated community protests, and he asked Star to be his ally. Could Star side against her own people? Could she lower her standards as a doctor in the name of patriotism? Was she truly loved, or merely being used? It took a dramatic medical emergency, and a startling revelation of character, to help Star find the answer hidden in her heart.

What a gal like you needs is a houseful of rambunctious kids.”
“Why would a beautiful gal like you want to be a doctor, of all things? Nurse, maybe, until the right man comes along. But lady doctors scare off the men.”
Star Lansing is a doctor who specializes in tropical diseases. Naturally, she’s decided to practice in Desert City, Arizona, where she caters to the well-to-do folks who come to the area for the spas and golf resorts. There’s a large population of poor Indians on the local reservation, and she moans a lot about the abysmal health care they receive, but she’s too busy cashing checks from her rich patients to help at all on that score; her excuse is that she is burdened with the large, insolvent family ranch that she has to keep afloat.
There are two men in her life. Dr. Hugh McEvers is the other local doctor, but he is “disheveled, charmingly irresponsible, and completely incompetent,” not to mention always late, lenient with nurses, and indulgent with his patients. Impossible man! But he’s fun to be with, so she goes out with him on occasion even if “Star wished that Hugh might be more sincere, more reliable, and that she might permit herself to fall in love with him.” Because Star strangely seems to view every man, no matter how unlikely, as a future husband, until circumstances demonstrate what the reader has seen at first handshake, that the guy is utterly and irrevocably wrong for her.
Meet the other man in her life: Col. Whittaker Blake, who has come to town to build the missile to end all missiles, or maybe just the world. It’s called, curiously, Baby Doll, and everyone is patriotically gung-ho about the project except Star. Her first objection to the plant is that it’s brought a lot of foreigners to town: “Poles, hillbillies, Puerto Ricans, Southerners, Mexicans, Armenians—” and these ne’er-do-wells just get drunk and beat up the locals. Not only that, but “movie theaters were deserted, except for the missile men and their bawdy women who clapped through the serious scenes and yelled with mirth at the comic ones.” To make matters worse, their jerry-built housing is causing real estate values to plummet, and “even the Indian and Mexican household help had absconded from domestic jobs, lured by the compensation” offered at the defense plant. And Col. Blake just laughs at her when she brings up these hardships! The nerve!
But he is awfully cute, so Star quickly gets over her indignation and starts flirting, offering to take him horseback riding out at her ranch, her pulse quickening: “She wanted to know this man in whose hands all the military responsibility rested, really know him.” So she dates him when she can, gets crabby when he doesn’t call, and wonders “when would Whit need and want her as a loving woman? And how long must she wait—wait—until every nerve in her body stopped quivering at the sight or nearness of him and she could utter the words forever crying in her heart: Oh, Whit—love me—love me!” Star is, in a nutshell, a shallow tramp.
Anyway, the problem with this little fantasy of Star’s is that every time she’s actually out with Whit, they invariably fight about how hard he drives his crew and how he insists on sham physicals for the workers so as to prevent delays in the schedule, as a regular exam would take everyone off the job for too long. And he thinks Indians are “lazy and incompetent.” But that’s just a minor hiccup for Star, who has visions of nosegays and white organza. She continues to defend Whit, to herself and to the townspeople, telling Hugh that Whit’s “a serious, dedicated person—one who should be an inspiration to all of us,” and never mind about his utter lack of regard for a fellow human being.
Then, out to dinner with Hugh one night, suddenly he’s the one her heart is all a-pitty-pat for—maybe because Hugh looked “better groomed.” Amazing what a comb and a tux can do for a guy, “something so tremendous, so steeped in magic that it was almost unreal.” In a twinkle she decides that if Hugh proposes tonight she’ll say yes, and I decide that I am thoroughly disgusted with Star Lansing, and the book’s just half over. But the fairy-tale ends abruptly when the Colonel crashes her date, so she tells him off—and this has nothing to do with the fact that he’s been out dancing at the country club with other women, and she’s been stewing over it for the last two chapters. Whit’s response is to ask her to marry him, but though fickle Star “would have been filled with a joy too great to deny a week ago,” now she’s not sure. “She had waited for him to call, yearned for the sound of his voice—was it only a week ago? What was she made of?” An excellent question.
As with many VNRNs, an epidemic pops up to put things to rights. Star and Hugh work relentlessly to track down the cause—good thing she spent all that time studying tropical diseases! It’s leptospirosis, passed around by a litter of puppies sired by her own dog, so it’s curtains for all the canines, including hers—not to mention a few of the missile plant workers, but it’s the dead dog that really puts the kibosh on her lust for Whit, as now she holds him responsible for both the dog’s death and the epidemic as well (though I’m not sure I follow her logic). The rest of the dominoes soon fall neatly into place: A new health clinic for the Indians, a happy ending for Whit and Star’s childhood Indian friend, and—best of all—an engagement ring for Star! So everyone is finally happy at the end: Star can die a happy and complete woman, and we can put away for good this overly long novel about a man-hungry, shallow, and annoying doctor.

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