Sunday, June 15, 2014

Resort Nurse

By Rose Dana
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1969
Nurse Carol Holly accepted her summer assignment to the Mic-Mac lodge with joy. It seemed full of promise. Her patient was wealthy Arthur Kulas, a stroke victim, a diabetic, but a fascinating art collector and lecturer still active in his career. And the Canadian resort offered the finest in entertainment and sports. Only Walter Pitt, the carefree young man who had pursued her from Boston, and Dr. Bill Shaw, the Mic-Mac’s resident physician, presented a problem; she liked both more than she cared to admit. Then Carol’s lightheartedness came to an abrupt end. Her patient was beaten, his room burglarized. By whom? By one or more of the too-fashionable guests at the lodge? But why? Harried by the mystery, Carol still dedicated herself to her nurse’s duties—until the criminals struck violently again, this time at her!
“Let’s admit, in spite of all the colleges, Boston is not the fun spot of the world for a single girl.”
“My last nurse had an unfortunate addiction to ginger ale. It was one of her more distressing aspects.”
“I hope you’re not given to making touching philosophic speeches like that. I couldn’t bear it.”
“Bart adores bullying me, and I find it so flattering.”
“Everybody acts idiotic at one time or another, but the people I have to deal with seem to make a career of it.”
“If Gabriel was blowing his horn and walls were tumbling all around us, you’d be running after me with a medicine bottle.”
“You are at your best in tennis clothes.”
“Don’t worry your pretty bullet-singed head.”
This being a book by Dan Ross, you know it won’t be long before we meet a woman who will be referred to as “the dark girl” again and again. Enter Mimi Gamal, a Lebanese woman staying at the hotel in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, where stroke victim Arthur Kulas has gone to recuperate. “The name Gamal suggests she could be Turkish,” Arthur explains to Nurse Carol Holly, who he’s dragged along to tend to him on his trip. “But she’s too beautiful for a Turkish woman. More apt to be of mixed blood. They are always the loveliest women.”
In addition to being a racist, Arthur is a gloriously cranky Back Bay Bostonian (Beacon Street, to be precise), a former State Department envoy to Egypt, who puts on lectures about the Middle East illustrated with valuable exhibits from his personal art collection. He’s going to Canada to recover from the stroke that he’s showing no signs of; it’s his diabetes that gives him trouble, so Carol is there to administer insulin shots twice a day and urge him to eat on schedule. But that’s about the job entails, so this leaves her plenty of time to play tennis with various men at the resort.
One of her would-be boyfriends is Walter Pitt, a man she has encountered on the street outside Kulas’ house before they departed for Canada. He stops her with the story that he’s found a lost purse, but when she tells him it’s not hers, he chases her down the street for several blocks, insisting that he’s not “some sort of crazy person”—his persistence clearly proving otherwise—adding that her reluctance to engage in conversation with a stranger marks her as “unreasonable and Victorian,” saying, “Here we live in a swinging age, and you’re acting this way!” Naturally, when she meets him in Canada, she tells him, “I’m glad to see you again,” and takes him up on a game of tennis after he easily convinces her that his being there is a complete coincidence. Later she snubs him after he dances with Mimi Gamal, and her raging jealousy of Mimi keeps her sparring with him for the rest of the book, she all the long fervently insisting that she is not at all jealous! I hope for her sake that no one ever tries to sell this poor dope a bridge.
Her other beau is the local doctor, Bill Shaw. “You seem to attract young men,” Arthur notes drily. “I trust you’re not going to allow a biological urge to get you into trouble.” Given her gullibility, I don’t have much confidence in Carol’s ability to say no. Indeed, Bill soon convinces her to spend her afternoons at the understaffed hospital, since they need her help so much more than Arthur does. Curiously, though, for an overworked medico Bill has plenty of time for tennis with Carol. Bill doesn’t impress much as a doctor when he’s actually working, either; he treats a man for a mild heart attack, and decides, “But we won’t tell him that. No need to scare him.” Later, tending to an accident victim whose leg is clearly broken in several places and bleeding heavily, he chooses to first repair the facial lacerations before determining if the major arteries in the leg have been severed. If the kid bleeds out, at least he’ll look good in his coffin.
A number of people in the hotel profess a deep interest in Arthur’s artifacts, including Mimi, the hotel’s orchestra’s bass player and his wife, tourists Captain Bart and his wife Ellen Hooper, and sea Captain Tim Mullaney—who offers Holly a ride on the street which she accepts because she didn’t want “to give the impression she considered herself above riding in a truck.” It doesn’t take a genius to feel suspicious of their salivating enthusiasm for the valuables, but Carol is not the brightest bulb on the tree, so she drops what should be confidential information—particularly after an attempted burglary—at the slightest hint, including the fact that Arthur has brought a lot of his valuables with him on the trip. Even when she starts to have “the scary feeling that behind all this casual talk there was a pattern, an evil pattern,” she still tells them that the artifacts are kept in locked bags in the hotel suite but that Arthur will probably be taking them out to sort through them at some point. She’ll be lucky not to be charged as an accessory to the burglary that anyone but Carol can see coming a mile away.
Indeed, at the halfway point in the book, Arthur wakes up to find he has been robbed again, but only items of little value are taken. Carol wastes no time in publicizing this fact, along with the information that the cases just have light locks on them. It’s not surprising, then, that Arthur and Carol are soon held captive by four of the obvious suspects, who are after a treasure map they have assumed that Arthur not only owns—which he has already plausibly denied in private to Carol—but brought with him to Canada. The pair is rescued by Walter and Captain Tim, and the would-be crooks escape. Then two more invite Carol and Arthur on a cruise piloted by Captain Tim, with Walter crashing the party at the last minute. Miles out at sea, one of the party pulls a gun and insists that Arthur “hand over” the treasure map—now the assumption is not only that he brought the map on vacation but that he carries it with him everywhere he goes.
Suddenly the plot takes on the velocity of a tornado: In four paragraphs the criminals have been apprehended and investigated, and Arthur and Carol have checked out of the hotel. Now all that remains is for the treasure map to be found and Carol to decide who to marry. Four pages later that has been accomplished, too, and with the nauseating final sentence, we can be shut of this stupid book.
If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s a stupid heroine. The only enjoyable feature of this book is the witticisms that Arthur tosses off with marvelous frequency, but unless you have the ability to enjoy a dumb book, it may not be enough to compensate for an insultingly flawed story line and a moronic main character.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nurse Shelley Decides

By Arlene Hale, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engle
“Are you after a fat paycheck, Nurse?” The contempt in Dr. Adam Victor’s voice stung Shelley—but it was true she was leaving the hospital to nurse a private patient, and Miriam Bleeker was very rich indeed. The handsome young doctor looked on Shelley as a deserter—and what made it worse was that Dr. Victor had declared war on the whole Bleeker family … and anyone who was with them was his enemy!
“I’m direct. That’s my big problem. I say what I think. Do you know how many people go around never really saying what they think or doing what they want, or being their real selves? IT’s sickening. It really is.”
Dr. Adam Victor is a tall, hungry-looking young man who yells at all the nurses and “seemed to hate all women in general, nurses in particular and Shelley especially.” Naturally, Nurse Shelley Stevens is drawn to this doctor, with whom she does nothing but fight.  “She didn’t know why she allowed him to upset her so much, but he invariably did.” Well, we know why, don’t we, readers! Shelley has a boyfriend, artist Paul deWinters, but though she loves hanging out in his apartment, she’s not as emphatically gung-ho about him. He doesn’t have a lot of ambition, “content to drift along in his easy-going way,” and besides, “there was always something just not quite right. Something was not complete.” This setup is a fairly standard VNRN ploy, telegraphing from the first page what’s going to happen on the last. It bores me.
Shelley lives and works in a mill town, and the mill in question is owned by the Bleeker family. The operating conditions at the mills are poor, and many workers end up in the hospital after accidents that could have been avoided. This is why Dr. Victor hates the Bleekers so much. But Shelley is asked as a special favor by Dr. Harris, an old friend who encouraged her to go to nursing school, to take a job specialing Miriam Bleeker, who is recovering from a stroke. So though she knows it is going to get her into hot water at work—and sure enough, it does—she takes the job. While she’s living in the Bleeker mansion, she begins to run into numerous mysteries: Why won’t the unions advocate for the workers but are content to let the lax conditions go unchallenged? Why is Dr. Harris, who is the medical director for the mills, also disinterested in pushing for better safety for the workers? What is Dr. Harris’ relationship with Mrs. Bleeker? Why has Mr. Bleeker abandoned the family?
About halfway through the book, Dr. Vincent and Shelley meet up at the funeral of a much-beloved patient and end up at dinner together—and kissing afterward. “I don’t understand. I thought we hated each other,” says Shelley the simpleton. After kissing her silly, Dr. Victor insists that Shelley quit working for the Bleekers, or “we’ll forget what just happened.” She’s shocked, but has enough spine to give him a piece of her mind and go back to the Bleekers.
Eventually, the crisis you knew was going to happen actually does: There’s a big explosion at the mill, and many people are seriously injured or killed. The shock of the accident also sends Miriam into a second and fatal heart attack. This saves everyone from the responsibility of agency: With Miriam out of the picture, her son Blake finally has the spine to throw his cheating wife and the corrupt union boss out on their ears, and start running a responsible business, vowing to rebuild the mill according to the best safety standards out there! Mr. Bleeker is returned to the mansion from the nursing home where he’d been hiding out, and Shelley is obliged to return to her job at the hospital. So now all it takes is for Dr. Victor to come striding over to her, grip her painfully by the shoulders, and command, “You’re going to marry me, Shelley. Just as soon as it can be arranged.” And that’s that, all but the nauseating final sentence.
The writing isn’t bad, but the plot is trite, and Nurse Shelley’s capitulation is more than a little disappointing, especially after the way she has stood up for herself all through the book. And we’re left with the question: What did Shelley decide? Seems to me the decision was made for her. If you figure it out, let me in on it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hospital Zone

By Mary Stolz, ©1956
Nurse Honey Kirkwood’s cheerful outlook on life made the hospital “routine” a pleasant, humane way to help her fellowmen. When off duty, Honey’s attractive face and ready smile made her irresistible—that is, to all but serious-minded Dr. Vincent Dragone. For Dr. Dragone, nurses did not seem to exist, except as assistants in the O.R. (Operating Room). Honey tried in every way she knew to arouse the handsome young intern’s interest, but his attitude toward her was strictly professional. The fact that three other young men were in love with her did not make Dr. Dragone’s indifference any easier to take. What do I want? Honey repeatedly asked herself. She found what she was looking for in her work … and in the man who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Interns’ purses were just about as flat as their manners, and probably the poor things couldn’t help either.”
“There was a certain sort of clan esprit about the hospital, even if you did need a stethoscope and a microscope and a sabbatical leave to find it.”
“That smile could cause riots.”
“He was going to die, and was taking too long because the hospital gave him such excellent care.”
Mary Stolz was a prolific writer for young adults, and, indeed, Hospital Zone was originally marketed to the young adult market. Here, however, it has been repurposed for the VNRN reader, and if the age of the heroine determines the literary niche, then a good number of VNRNs could likewise be designated young adult fiction. Honey Kirkwood, whose given name will rank alongside Candy and Poppy as the more unfortunate monikers I’ve met in this genre, is a 19-year-old student nurse with at least three beaux and a good idea of how to manage them: “Every time he comes into your mind, you just have to shove him out again, and after a while he quits coming around.”
Most of the book follows Honey throughout her daily life, caring for patients that are kind or mean, getting well or dying, sympathetic or irritating. She lives in a dorm full of lively fellow students, and the dialogue is snappy and smart when she’s with her peeps. As is common with the young adult genre, Honey is grappling with existential problems common to the young: who she is as a person, what she wants from life and her relationships with men. She waxes philosophical about the usual tripe that VNRNs of this period hand out, that “for girls the entire point of life was men.” But she actually sits down to think that over, unlike most heroines we read about who just gulp it down without swallowing. Early on, she does decide that “when you’d found him, and you knew, all the rest would just fall in line because you’d be a whole person and a whole person takes life whole, not in pickings as if it were a tray of canap├ęs.” The nice thing about this is that along her way, Honey meets an elderly woman who tells her that even one’s “true love” fades with time, that there are other loves to be had. Honey immediately discards this as impossible, but the wise patient is proved correct in the end, when Honey fails to land the big fish, another groundbreaking development in VNRNs.
But we need not feel too sorry for Honey, as she is seldom without male company: She dates her three boyfriends, one more than the others, and that one, Joey, proposes about midway through the book. Honey wisely declines to answer, saying, “I’m too young”—and I was mighty pleased that for once a heroine wasn’t finding her purpose in life from a little golden circle. But through it all she’s mooning for the aloof Dr. Dragone, a handsome but inaccessible doctor with whom she has occasional exchanges. At book’s close he’s going to a residency in New York and Honey is left with the realization that she does love him and she can’t have him, but that the pain will pass and she will go on and be a better person for having known, and valued, him. It makes for a far weightier ending than the usual nurse novel, one that’s actually worth 173 pages. Even if it falls a smidge outside the strict definition of a nurse romance novel, I am glad not to have missed this impressive little book.