Saturday, February 11, 2017

Daredevil Nurse

By Arlene J. Fitzgerald, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Dr. Stag Shaylor fascinated Nurse Robin Reid—and most of the people in her home town. Why did the gifted young surgeon live alone in the strange old house? Who were his late-night visitors? Were his unusual medical practices only unorthodox—or dangerous fakery? Robin had to find out the answers—for she sensed that Stag Shaylor could be more exciting—and dangerous—than Robin’s daring hobby of skydiving!


“I don’t want to have to pry you away, when the time comes for us to get married. I want you to come peacefully.”

“A fellow has to be lucrative, if he plans to take on a wife, someday.”

“The girls feel they have to comply, in order to succeed. The more daring the neckline, the better. IF a few of us would show a little righteous indignation against violations of good taste … ”

“You look like cotton candy. Good enough to eat.”

“Maybe I’m wise to plan on marriage, after I’ve satisfied my career urges.”

Not long after bestowing Arlene J. Fitzgerald with the top berth on the list of Worst VNRN Authors in the 2016 VNRN awards, I picked up Daredevil Nurse—and found it really not so awful. High praise for her.

Alas, the cover illustration does not give us an accurate prediction of what nurse Robin Reid will be getting herself into between the book’s covers. Coming home to Pine Grove, Oregon, after completing her nurse’s training, she is starting her first job at Pine Grove Memorial. She’s also coming home to Jay Bradley, her high school sweetheart, with whom we are repeatedly reminded she has no formal understanding despite a five-year relationship. The couple discusses their future a lot, though, Jay telling her she’ll have to quit her job when they get married. Like all VNRN heroines with a longtime steady, she really doesn’t like much about Jay: He’s reckless, inconsiderate, and not very interested in her. He takes her skydiving regularly, which she doesn’t enjoy at all, but she doesn’t feel comfortable just telling him that. Instead of the practical medical bag she’s long admired, it’s a sky blue parachute he gives her, one that matches the jumpsuit he gave her last year. But “if she wanted Jay Bradley’s love, she had to pretend”—and never mind that it’s not clear why she wants his love in the first place.

Enter the doctor who makes her tachycardic—named, I am very sorry to tell you, Stag Shaylor. He is quite hot, but aloof and distant with the nurses—until he chats up Robin in front of the elevators and starts the gossip mill churning. Soon she’s assisting him in the OR at his request, and defending his unusual practice of talking to the anesthetized patients as if they are conscious, gently encouraging them throughout their surgical procedures. Curiously, the hospital is in uproar about  this harmless idiosyncrasy, and Dr. Stag is on the brink of being drummed out of the hospital for this and for his thoroughly unforgiveable habit of flying his small prop plane out of town every weekend and not telling anyone where he’s going or what he’ll be doing.

Robin eventually is invited to come with him one weekend—and Stag gives her that shiny medical bag she’s been wanting for so long (why didn’t she just buy it for herself?)—but when they arrive, she’s livid to find out he’s running a small general practice in an isolated coastal town. She thinks it’s just a ploy to win her over as he faces a medical board inquiry—as if the truth is some sort of trick, but he invites her to assist him in office hours, and she’s soon won over. The backstory she eventually learns is that Stag’s best friend in medical school was planning to open this clinic, but was attacked by a shark before graduation and died because medical care was too distant to save him.

Meanwhile, Jay conveniently takes a crop-dusting contract out of town for two weeks, freeing Robin to go out with Stag and succumb to his “male demand,” which here is a euphemism for kissing her. Here she begins to demonstrate some fairly nauseous beliefs, such as “knowing with deep, sure feminine instinct, that the only real comfort a man could know came to him through his own aggressiveness.”

A forest fire sends Robin and Stag on a medical mission in his plane to render medical aid to a trapped movie crew. The adventure ends in Robin being offered a movie contract, and Stag tells her he would have proposed if she weren’t going off to Hollywood—and she never bothers to mention, though she’s now in love with Stag, that she has no intention whatsoever of leaving nursing.

Jay comes home and she immediately breaks up with him, now that she feels all is lost with Stag, that “it was up to Dr. Shaylor to come to her, if he was interested. She wanted to shout out her desires, knowing instinctively that if she did, she might lose him for all time. She could only sit quietly, alerted by her knowledge that a man wanted to be the aggressor, had to be, to fulfill his own male urges, just as a woman had to remain silent, as a fulfillment of her best, female self.” She immediately follows up this revolting theory by sky diving out of Stag’s airplane to adjust the landing lights so Stag can land his plane and deliver a baby in his weekend job.

It’s easily the best Arlene Fitzgerald book I’ve read, but it is not without flaws, the most egregious being her insane attitude about being a passive little ornament—which, I should note, she completely undoes at the end of the book by kissing Stag on the mouth when is marriage proposal is interrupted by that darned baby—“it was a wanton thing to do,” she thinks. The I-really-do-love-my-irritating-boyfriend theme is not as badly done here as it is in some VNRNs, as Robin soon realizes that she does not love Jay, though her inability to be upfront with him about her true feelings, while not surprising, is still annoying. Without what I hope are relics of the times, it’s a good read, even if Robin is not the daredevil we are led to believe by the otherwise glorious cover.

1 comment:

  1. Stag Shaylor makes me think of Austin Powers' voice for some reason--"This is Shag Staylor, baby!!"