Saturday, August 20, 2016

No Escape from Love

By Bennie C. Hall, ©1968

Linda Harland, R.N., fled from Boston’s Riverview Hospital when an emotional holocaust threatened to engulf her. Dr. Greg Arnold, the man she secretly loved, had announced his engagement to another woman. For self-preservation, Linda had to give up nursing and the life she knew in the States, and accept an invitation to visit her father, a mining engineer, in Liberia, West Africa. With much to remember and much to forget, Linda threw herself into a new life on this strange continent and even let herself enjoy the attentions of wealthy playboy, Chris Osborne, and young medical researcher, Dr. Paul Arnold. With them, Linda suddenly became conscious of herself as a desired and desiring woman, only it was the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong man! Linda found there was no escape from her solemn pledge as a nurse and no escape from love, no matter how fast she ran, nor how far she went.


“Jet lag is one of the hazards of the space age we happen to be living in.”

“You’ll probably be changing your name any day. Pretty girls, I’ve noticed, are allergic to single harness.”

“Don’t tell me you’re a nurse? How dumb can I get? I should have recognized the symptoms: patience, fortitude, interest in medical shop talk.”

“I’m sure you have any number of good qualities. Of course, you do like to shock people, but that seems to be the thing nowadays. It’s a kind of emotional sickness, I suppose.”

“I never drink anything stronger than bourbon.”

“She managed to convey with her eyes a scathing indictment that no proper Bostonian would dream of putting into words.”

“Is it you—or am I on one of those LSD trips?”

“Nurses were strictly for healing, not feeling.”

“The medico who can fool a staff nurse is yet to be born.”

“How could any man in his right mind let a wonderful girl like you escape? If he’d had the sense of a half-wit, he’d have locked you up.”

“I have no notion of freaking out.”

“She resisted a housewifely impulse to straighten out the mess of papers and close the desk drawer, fearful of displacing something vital to Research.”

“Already we’ve shared just about everything from witchcraft to war, not to mention a tropical rainy season.”

Linda Harlan has been working with Dr. Greg Arnold for two years, and the pair were an unstoppable team—but entirely platonic, much to her chagrin. When he suddenly announces his engagement to a society woman, Linda feels there is no choice but for her to flee this “emotional holocaust” (a term that seems a bit hyperbolic, given that her relationship with Dr. Arnold would remain completely unchanged if he did marry this other woman). So she reaches out to her estranged father, now living in Liberia, and when he invites her to visit him and his second wife and stepdaughter, she quits her job and hops a plane. There, despite the ubiquitous shortage of nurses, she prefers to spend her days in a social whirl among the wealthy white set of West Africa, despite the urging of Dr. Paul Raymond, a young medico intent on saving the world from tropical diseases. So she flits from party to party and decorates the house for the Christmas holidays.

What takes me one paragraph to relay fills more than half the book, so if you choose to begin at Chapter Nine you won’t have missed much. At this point, Dr. Arnold writes to Linda to let her know that his wedding has been cancelled, and subsequent missives start building up to what Linda feels certain will be a marriage proposal. How she feels about this is unclear: She puts the letters in a box and thinks about all the promises she’s made to various people, chiefly to Paul Raymond to work for a few months in his very rural clinic.  

Maybe you should start at Chapter Ten, in which Linda heads off into the bush. Once at the clinic, she works hard caring for sick natives and in the research lab with Paul. Months pass. It rains a lot. OK, so let’s make it Chapter Eleven, where Paul tells Linda he’s in love with her. Then they bicker for the rest of the chapter. There’s an incident with a woman who is convinced that her baby is hexed, and Linda is excessively worried about this thorny problem, which smacks not lightly of racist overtones, eventually insulting the native aide with a patronizing tirade, but the baby is fine, and Linda is sorry afterward that she was cross and hateful. You might want to skip that part, too.

In Chapter Twelve we learn that “trouble hovered over the rainforests.” An unexplained civil war breaks out, seemingly triggered by nothing but the weather. And Paul is pissed! “Wouldn’t you just know they’d drum up a ruckus at a time like this, right when I’m on the verge of coming up with something important? I no more than start making plans of my own when bedlam breaks loose, and I’ve got to start grubbing all over again,” he grouses to Linda. Those Africans are just so darned inconsiderate!

In the last chapter, Linda freshens her makeup and goes to the lab to watch a midnight dance with Paul, but it’s so frightening that “the most dedicated Peeping Tom was reduced to goose pimples.” Linda, therefore, winds up with her face pressed to Paul’s shirt, and marriage is proposed. In the ensuing two pages, the fates of men and countries are summarily wrapped into neat bundles, perfect for the upcoming Christmas wedding! And that’s the end!

The other VNRN of Ms. Hall’s we’ve toured, Redheaded Nurse, was a simple yet sweet little book. This one, I am sorry to say, is more dumb and less enjoyable. It feels as if it were a chore to write, because it certainly is a bit of a grind to read. The characters are flat and have little importance to the story; in fact, major events such as war seem to have little importance either. The writing can be campy at times, but that alone is not reason enough to venture past the horrifying cover illustration. Add the tinge of racism (though not as egregious here as it is in some VNRNs), and this book is best left on the shelf.

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