Monday, February 8, 2016

Nurse of the Grand Canyon

By Virginia Smiley, ©1973

The Grand Canyon was a long way from New York City … but pretty young nurse Kathleen McMasters was ready for a big change. She became enchanted by the spectacular beauty of the West and decided that this was where she wanted to live and work. One of the first people Kathleen met in Grand Canyon Village was little Kerry Loughlin. Kathleen was charmed by the child, and Kerry thought Kathleen would make the perfect wife for her handsome widower father, Pete. Kathleen truly liked Pete. But she also found herself attracted to another man. Now she would have to choose between them …


When I first opened this book, it reminded me of Marjorie Lewty’s magnificent Town Nurse—Country Nurse, but perhaps that’s mostly because they are both written in the first person. Kathleen McMasters has a bit of the same character as Lewty’s Kate Moorcroft, but as the pages turn, it’s really not that much.

The story begins with Kathleen, having traveled to the Grand Canyon for a solo vacation, peering over the edge and crying for the beauty of it. She’s instantly tackled by cowboy Cal Fulton, who thinks she’s suicidal. When she hotly denies it and accuses him of attacking her, he drawls, “Not a bad idea at that,” but oddly she is not impressed. Nonetheless, before he leaves her, he “glanced at my ring-free left hand,” which is apparently some sort of permission slip, and kisses her, pinning her arms so she cannot escape. “No harm done, ma’am,” he concludes when he lets her go. This is one of those all-to-frequent devices in a VNRN that I can only pray was not as common in real life fifty years ago than it is in these books. The only thing worse than these assaults is the fact that the heroine ends up dating the creep, almost every time. And despite her initial intention to “do my best to avoid him,” Kathleen is indeed soon dating Cal.

In another tried-and-true plot device, she has a boyfriend back home that she doesn’t like, this one an architect who “dressed in tailor-made suits and $25 shirts” so as to wow wealthy clients. He is pressing Kathleen to marry him, but she thinks he just likes her as “the bit of color on his arm, a soon-to-be possession,” and is really seeking a hostess for his swank parties. Despite the many, many flaws in her young man, “I was sure I loved Tod”—but in this case she actually makes short work of him. He jets out to express his horror that she’s staying in a cabin and not the ritzy hotel, and secondarily to propose: “ ‘I want you to marry me,’ he had said, not ‘I love you Kathleen. Will you marry me?’ The lovely diamond, meant to be a symbol of love between two people, had almost been flung at me, along with an order to wear it. The entire scene resembled someone else’s nightmare.” She declines.

She soon meets Kerry Loughlin, an eight-year-old girl who is raising herself (she seems to subsist on instant coffee and donuts, a diet that passes unremarked upon by Kathleen) while her widowed father, Pete, works as a naturalist at the canyon. Kathleen is quickly absorbed into the life of this family and their close friends Cowboy Cal and Nurse Holly. She gets a job at the nearby (understaffed, natch) hospital and decides to relocate to the area permanently, and goes out with both Pete and Cal. There’s the owner of the nearby grocery store and Pete’s sister-in-law to add to the mix, and then it’s just a question of figuring out which lap everyone is going to sit in when the music stops.

It’s a fairly straightforward book without a lot of zip to it, a mundane plot, and nothing to offer for the Best Quotes section. Kathleen is a bit more feisty than some, and decides to keep working after she’s married (“You’re a liberated woman, Kathleen McMasters. If you want to work, I sure won’t try to stop you,” declares her betrothed), but not enough to make it a good book. It will pass the time without too much pain, but this Grand Canyon is not really worth the stop. 

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