Sunday, October 30, 2016

School Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1960

The terrible secret she harbored seemed far, far away to Glenda Lloyd, R.N., now that she was school nurse at Brentwood Academy for Girls. But the Academy soon began to present problems of its own, not the least of which was the handsome art teacher, Elliott Hunter, and the strong, silent Paul Fields. When Glenda found herself caught in the middle of school politics, her secrets suddenly were used as weapons for her affections and her loyalty.


“ ‘These crazy girls! What makes females so emotional?’
“Glenda laughed. ‘So that you strong males can protect us, of course!’ ”

Glenda Lloyd, R.N., has left her home and position in Pittsburgh and applied for a post in a Midwestern boarding school for girls, Brentwood Academy. Fortunately for her, she is hired on the spot, or she would have had to roam the countryside forever, because, you see, she is running away from a terrible past. What that is we do not know, but we are aware of her tortured soul by such sentences as, “Had he, perhaps, learned about— No, it wasn’t likely.” So we won’t learn about that terrible day in January, or the big empty house with the closed door, or Sara or Dr. Ted Hartford, until page 112, by which time the purported suspense will drop you about two inches and you will not at all care to learn the details of what you had suspected all along: that nurse Glenda had been accused of some terrible professional blunder that turns out to have been no crime at all, and at book’s end 16 pages later her guilt is completely resolved.

In the interim, however, Glenda makes friends with several students, curing them both body and soul, particularly Jeanie Fields, who is in a wheelchair after a car accident. She becomes so close to Jeanie that she begins dating Jeanie’s brother Paul, a quiet, hard-working man, who keeps house, cooks, and does the dishes, on top of caring for Jeanie, since the pair are orphans. Paul soon falls in love with Glenda, but she’s not sure, because when he touches her “there were no butterflies flitting about, no lightheadedness, no sudden need for air.” This is another literary saw that author Arlene Hale is fond of: The ordinary good guy would be a better husband than the hunky guy who makes your pulse race but who ultimately turns out to be shiftless and undependable. I, for one, don’t buy it.

The part of the hunky heartthrob in this case is played by Elliott Hunter, who is fond of smooching Glenda but “wouldn’t be caught dead doing anything more than making coffee. He had an idea it would make him a sissy.” Savvy readers know that this is a clue that Glenda should run! Except in the next paragraph he’s starting a fire and turning down the lights, so, all right, maybe we can stay a little bit longer.

Elliott is fond of making derogatory remarks about the school, the students, the headmaster, you name it, and soon we learn that he is conspiring with the sexy English teacher Sheila Conway to oust the headmaster and take over the place. Glenda learns of the plot, but for some mysterious reason feels she cannot divulge it to anyone because Elliott asked her not to, even though she thinks he is a dirty louse to betray poor Mr. Patterson like that. Her conflict is rendered all the more paradoxical—to us, certainly not to the one-dimensional Glenda—because it is clear that the headmaster is doing a bad job running the school; as just one example, there’s no money for an extra nurse when the flu epidemic breaks out and Glenda is forced to stay up all night for days on end to care for all the ailing girls. All Glenda can think about is that it would positively kill old Mr. P. to be relieved of his job—but then, we are puzzled by her lack of concern for the fact that it might well kill him to keep it, as he has a bad heart that is going to fell him at literally any moment. In the end, Glenda circumvents her peculiar oath to silence by leaving her diary on her desk and asking Mr. Patterson’s devoted secretary to watch the office for 15 minutes, and when it is revealed that the secretary has perused the telltale volume, Glenda is shocked! Because she had not intended for that to happen at all! I think we are supposed to like her better for her total obeisance to her strange honor, but I would have liked her better if she had done it on purpose.

The book wraps up exactly as you think it will, and after Glenda’s final confrontation with Elliott, she finds that when she kisses him (OK, you’re wondering why she did at all) it’s still exploding rockets and firecrackers, but she pulls away, thinking, “This sort of excitement wouldn’t last. It had a way of dying out.” And then, when she next kisses Paul, guess what?!? “For the barest moment, the sky tipped crazily.” Zowie! Maybe the steady, dull guy can be exciting after all!

The writing isn’t terrible, and there aren’t too many loose ends (what is the story about little Betsy sneaking out late at night? Why does Elliott hate the school janitor so much?), so it’s not the most infuriating VNRN I’ve read. But in School Nurse Arlene Hale has done it again, and what I mean by that is that she has turned out another completely perfunctory, ordinary book without the least bit of interest. It’s not a bad book, mind you, but it is completely pedestrian in every way, one you will soon forget and be none the worse for it.

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