Saturday, June 4, 2016

Art Colony Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1969

It was all so simple … in the beginning. Handsome young Dr. Larry Rhodes wanted a capable nurse; Eileen Bonham, R.N., had all the qualifications. Eileen wanted romance with marital possibilities; Larry had all the qualifications. Simple. Storybook perfect … until the day Eileen discovered the Bohemian art colony on the California coast and nothing seemed duller than life with a successful, hard-working doctor, nothing more exciting than a free-swinging affair with a flamboyant artist. Suddenly Eileen found herself torn between the man and career she’d always dreamed of—and a thrilling, carefree adventure she’d never dared to imagine.


“Nobody bothered to warn me you were beautiful.”
Eileen Bonham has taken a break from nursing in Los Angeles to spend a few weeks at her parents’ house in northern California, though her parents keep hoping she’ll stay for good. There are no good job prospects to keep her there, however, until local GP Dr. Larry Rhodes advertises for an office nurse. On the interview, she finds him hunky but a bit somber for her taste. Nonetheless she takes the job—well, after she learns Dr. Rhodes is single. After weeks at work, though, she becomes increasingly disenchanted, busy and interesting though the job may be, because Larry hasn’t asked her out yet.

In addition, she soon sees a side of him that she doesn’t particularly care for, when a family of hippies brings in their young son, who has fallen from a tree. Dr. Rhodes, disgusted with the young parents’ lifestyle, terrifies them by painting a horrific description of the lockjaw that will almost certainly ensue, he says, if young Tad Shearer hasn’t gotten his vaccinations. After a few calls to the boy’s pediatrician, it’s found that he’s up to date, but man! What a bummer! Eileen is not impressed with Larry’s deliberate cruelty to the parents, and when they do go out to dinner for the first time, they get into a heated discussion about whether the Shearers have any right to have children, since they are not financially stable and live in an art colony of dubious reputation and plumbing. The date, needless to say, is a fiasco, and Eileen decides that Larry is a rigid square who thinks that only an orderly life is worth living.

Curiously, however, Eileen, chides herself for having “fallen in love with a man whose basic thinking was so at odds with her own,” and she continues to believe that she loves him, even though through many of the ensuing pages it is quite clear that she doesn’t like him one bit. She’s hoping that “some restricting bonds inside him would break, he would sweep her into his arms, and she would reach to the warm, relaxed core of a human being named Larry Rhodes who had only been pretending he was made of wood.” It seems imprudent to wait around hoping that someone you dislike will suddenly change into someone you do like, but maybe that’s just me.

Also curiously, Eileen deliberately decides to do something that would piss off the good doctor: hang out with the Shearers at the art colony. There she meets another irritating ass, Nick Hamilton. Tall and handsome, he has a tendency to sport dandyish outfits such as a white Nehru jacket trimmed with gold braid, tightly fitted black Edwardian trousers, and gray suede boots. Spotting an unattached female with a steady paycheck, Nick proceeds to woo the gullible Eileen. Though she spends many ensuing evenings canoodling with Nick on a picnic blanket in the hills, she is still having Larry over for dinner on occasion despite the fact that she dreads his boring conversation, and again, she chastises herself that “this was the man she was supposedly in love with.” So when Nick announces to the entire colony that the pair are engaged—without having consulted Eileen—“it seemed right, somehow,” and she goes along with it. Really, not one thing in this woman’s love life makes any sense to me at all.

Eventually she tells off Larry, letting him know what a straitlaced dullard he is and that his condescending attitude toward the artists is appalling. Unexpectedly, Larry seems to take her words to heart and soon is inviting her to carnivals and otherwise trying to be less stultifying. She instantly warms to him, but decides that it’s “important to let him know that she liked him (loved him?) for himself, for what he was, and not only for what he was trying, in the hope of winning her approval, to be.” When she’s just spent the last five chapters sneering at how tiresome he is? Then, when Larry proposes, she accepts—now to quickly call it off with Nick before Larry finds out!

It’s just not to be, however, because a tapestry weaver whom Nick threw over for Eileen attempts suicide, and when Larry is called out to save the woman, Eileen’s double engagement comes to light. Eileen has written her letter of resignation to the doctor and is about to clear town when Mrs. Shearer comes to her in the middle of the night—there’s an outbreak of hepatitis at the art colony! Eileen rushes out to the encampment, leaving word with Larry’s love-sick secretary to let him know what’s going on. Needless to say, the jealous secretary fails to pass on the message, leaving Eileen to manage copious infectious bodily fluids alone for almost a day before the situation is revealed. Then the two are working side by side for almost a week to cure everyone, and when it’s over, Larry has a new-found appreciation for the hippies and the art they produce, and for Eileen as well, so she gets her man in the end, after all.

I never understood Eileen’s feelings for either Larry or Nick, so it’s difficult to find any satisfaction with this book. The artist colony and the hippies are a fun bit of cultural time-traveltheir vocabularly in particularand of course the title of this book is pretty superior, so there may be some reason to pick it up. But if you’re looking for a satisfying story, you will not find it in this art colony.  

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