Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jill Nolan, R.N.

Book 1 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1962
Cover illustration by Mort Engle

Young, dedicated, Jill Nolan was the private nurse, and the private property, of Dr. Vince Merrill, a glamorous society doctor. A Christmas vacation, a sudden blizzard, and a tragic accident combined to throw Jill into service in a mining town, and into the arms of young Alan Harper, M.D. There was a world of difference between Dr. Merrill’s plush city practice and Dr. Harper’s plain, hard-working mountain clinic. As a nurse, Jill Nolan belonged to both these worlds of medicine. As a woman, she could only belong to one man.


“She was thirtyish and pregnant and not happy about either state.”

“Never keep a man waiting, lest his ardor cool.”

Adeline McElfresh, having finished up the six-volume Dr. Jane series, apparently wasted no time before picking up her pen to begin another series, this one about Jill Nolan, R.N., as this inaugural volume was copyrighted just a year after Dr. Jane’s Choice, the last of six books about that good doctor. This book offers us a heroine who has a bit more maturity than Jane, and the same pleasant (and occasionally amusing) writing, so we’re off to a good start with Jill—and the fact that there are only four books in her series could be a plus, as it may keep her from becoming too dull.

At book’s open, she is engaged to a fairly commonplace VNRN character: the aspiring, successful, heartthrob doctor who cares more about his patients’ wallets than he does about their health. Jill has spent the past six months as his office nurse, a time in which she often felt her pulses thrill to his kiss but her mind fairly unengaged. Then, while dropping by the mountains of Kentucky in the dead of winter to visit her old nursing school chum Karen Hannah, she lands in the middle of a mining accident and immediately is pressed into duty. It’s more action than she’s had, well, since she started working for Vince Merrill, and she immediately finds the work immensely satisfying, even if the décor in Dr. Alan Harper’s office is a bit more frayed. As Karen’s husband is severely injured in the mining accident, and Karen is now needed at home to care for him, Jill agrees to stay on for a time until Karen can get back to work.

Needless to say, the job is busy and satisfying, and we spend a lot of time following Jill and Al around on their daily rounds, meeting upwards of 30 different locals with varying ailments. And listening to Jill’s ruminations about the differences between Vince and Al, which becomes increasingly wearing as time goes on. It’s a common device that the fiancé is actually a heel, but it’s not clear why an otherwise talented and sensible woman wouldn’t just break up with the louse once her ardor cools instead of trying to talk herself into love with a man she is constantly criticizing in her head. Though to Jill’s (partial) credit, she doesn’t try to convince herself that she really loves Vince, but this makes the reader wonder even more why she doesn’t give him the heave-ho.  And she never actually does, which is a puzzle—is any man, no matter how despicable, better than none? Is she just waiting for the next fella to come along before she feels she can actually say goodbye to the first one? Whether it’s laziness or scheming, neither characteristic is admirable.

Really, there’s just not much more to say about the plot, because it’s more than clear from the first word how it will end. In between, there’s some amusing dated chatter about the impending nuclear crisis, as Jill spends some time planning for how the local medical staff would respond to a major hit of radiation, either from the Russians or the atomic research facility 100 miles away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Author McElfresh does have a tendency to trot out some very ham-handed medical metaphors, such as, “Jill tied a firm mental ligature on the malaise,” and, “she and Karen had dissected their thoughts about nursing with keen thought-scalpels,” but these clinkers are infrequent enough to be forgiven. The ending is a bit confusing—it appears that Jill is actually out-of-the-blue in love with a third character!—which makes for a lot of head-scratching. But overall, even if it’s fairly conventional and straightforward, this is a good book as it stands. 

Jill Nolan, Surgical Nurse

Book 2 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1962
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

As a skilled, disciplined surgical nurse, Jill Nolan was well prepared to assist at critical operations. But, as a woman in love, could she forget that the man fighting for his life on the operating table was Tom Ratcliff, her attractive, wealthy fiancé?


“We can use a change of male scenery around this place.”

Jill Nolan is one of those fickle professionals who, having worked for years to put themselves through nursing school, is now ready to chuck it all when Tom Ratcliff slips that band of gold onto her finger. Early on in the book, her contented dream is to “be Mrs. Thomas Ratcliff, not Nurse Jill Ratcliff, with all the responsibilities that went with her new name.” What those responsibilities might be, why they’re more important than her responsibilities as a nurse, and why the author missed this awful dangling modifier, escape me.

Jill’s engagement comes as a bit of a surprise because at the close of Jill Nolan, R.N., she was smooching Dr. Al Harper on her way out the door of a relationship with fiancé Vince Merrill, while having “warm glowy” thoughts about another character altogether, and Tom Ratcliffe was not even a named character in that book (though the married Carl Ratliffe, who is not a character in this book, is). So how did she give three men in the first book the slip? Is there another Jill Nolan book hiding out there that my searches have not turned up? The head-scratching that we closed the first book of the series continues in the start of this, which is not a good omen.

Enter Dr. Donald Jonathan Gifford, a brilliant surgeon who has his pick of two top posts but chooses to take up at Bradburn Memorial Hospital in Seymour, Kentucky, where Jill and the scant roster of her fellow nurses and doctors overwork themselves. Now, after she’s decided that she likes Giff—and “the knowledge brought a warm, small glow deep inside”—she’s starting to feel a bit of “reluctance” at the idea of quitting her job, which pops up during a drive she takes with the doctor. Before long she’s chafing at the bit on every other page, quietly stewing over Tom’s resentment that her job takes up a lot of her time—and his hypocrisy when he runs off to fix some problem at work and leaves her cooling her heels, or when he’s upset that she doesn’t share his devotion to his chemical plant despite the fact that he can’t condone her devotion to nursing—and it gets downright tiresome. “Tom felt that, if nursing were such a challenging and satisfying profession, let it be a challenge and a satisfaction to someone else, as, after they were married, it would have to be.” “I don’t want to share you,” he tells her. “With you I’m second.” Then there’s the wavering, when after a long day at the hospital, she “obediently” makes a tour of the plastics factory with Tom even though she’s dog tired. “It was her duty, she had told herself sternly, many times before, for she would not be marrying just Tom Ratcliff. Whether she liked it or not, she would be marrying Ratcliff Plastics, Incorporated.” But the more time she spends with Giff, the more she begins to think that she might not feel for Tom “a love deep enough to compensate for giving up nursing to marry him […] the kind of love that she would need if she were to be happy with only Tom and not the nursing career she had dreamed of since childhood.”

All this back-and-forth between the two men is sandwiched between two crises at the plastics factory. Chapter One opens with a big fire at the plastics plant, and a number of men are wounded, including Tom. One of Jill’s many moments of panic comes when she is obliged to assist during the operation on his depressed skull fracture and hemorrhaging middle temporal artery. He pulls through, of course, thanks to Giff, but now we’re all in a dither about the fire: “If that fire had been set—! For heaven’s sake, who could hate Tom so much?” But it’s all a lot of, if you will, smoke and mirrors: After pages of hysterical italics, it turns out that the fire was set by the flip of a careless cigarette. However, we’ll be meeting the italics again: An oil tanker crashes at the plant and an unnamed worker is pinned. After 150 pages of complaining about Tom’s oppression, she’s freaking out: “Oh, God, please, not Tom, again!” If it is him, she decides, she’s not going to tell him that she doesn’t love him anymore! But he’s not hurt, and when Dr. Gifford goes crawling under the truck to get the trapped man, Tom forbids Jill from going in with Giff. From one extreme to the other: “Jill jerked free. ‘Don’t try to stop me!’ oh! Tom Ratcliff! How could I ever have thought I loved you?” She helps Giff patch up the severed subclavian artery, and now he’s the lucky recipient of her hysteria: “Giff, oh, Giff darling, be careful!” Bleah.

The writing in this book is pretty perfunctory. Ms. McElfresh likes to explain in great detail each surgery that Jill witnesses. While this could be interesting, if you don’t understand all the anatomy and surgical equipment, it passes over the reader’s head. In addition, she is unfortunately enamored with the idea of using medical jargon as descriptors in her writing, so we are treated to far too many gems such as, “a lancet of apprehension,” “half-anesthetized by a fresh burst of terror,” “Dr. Bradford’s terse nod ligated the swift-burgeoning fear.” The hysteria that populates this book reminded me somewhat of Marie Warren, Night Nurse, but without that book’s camp or very peculiar charms. This is the second book in the series, and it’s never a good sign when you’re not looking forward to hearing about Jill’s further adventures.

Jill Nolan’s Choice

Book 3 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1963

Why, Jill asked herself, had she left Bradburn Memorial Hospital to work in the wild and open backwoods country? Was it because she had felt unsure of her love for Giff? Had she hoped, during the year that she would be away from this operating table and his kisses, to test their love? And was that, she thought uneasily, the reason she could turn to Clay Ramsdell so easily—because she did not, truly and deeply, love Giff? Yes, Jill thought, absence makes the heart grow fonder … but of whom?


With this volume, we continue the times of Jill Nolan, RN, as she makes her way toward matrimony; after that point, we need no longer bother with her. In this book, Jill has decided to work at a Navajo clinic in northeastern Arizona for a year, working alongside Dr. John Gray Cloud. John was a friend of Jill’s fiancé’s when the boys were in medical school, and when he stopped in for a visit in Kentucky, where Jill and Giff live, love, and work, his tales of the beauty and hardship on the reservation tugged at Jill’s heart. So she packed her bags and set out for the Southwest for a year-long stint there.

Before she even arrives at the cinderblock clinic, she meets local rancher Clay Ramsdell, and assists a young Navajo woman who is losing a battle to deliver a breech baby. Jill wades right into her scrubs and the woman’s uterus, turning the baby and saving two lives with complete aplomb, and now she is known throughout the reservation as a nurse who has life-saving magic.

Most of the book follows Jill as she navigates Navajo lands, people, and language, and this is the rare VNRN about non-white people that treats them with honor and decency. The Navajo people we meet are poor, but they are largely dignified people facing the steep challenges of prejudice and poverty. Jill’s main struggles throughout the book are, unfortunately, less dignified: She can’t decide if she really loves Giff.

Jill’s decision to leave Kentucky for this year-long sabbatical is never really satisfactorily explained, as even she doesn’t seem to understand it. Now and then, intruding on an otherwise lovely story, are her never-answered musings on the subject, and the corollary, whether she should go home or stay in Arizona, where she is deeply needed and enjoying a very satisfying career—a decision she makes suddenly and without premeditation, much to my chagrin. She is just as uninsightful about her boyfriends: She often sternly reminds herself that she loves Giff, and then wonders in the next sentence why she is attracted to Clay, before she shoves away the entire topic and goes off to set somebody’s broken leg. (I did wish she would spend more of her time doing the latter and less of the former.) Her debate over her feelings about Clay is largely internal, as although he kisses her once, he never brings it up again, and the two just hang out in an essentially platonic relationship. Then, in the end, she makes an unstartling discovery out of the blue about whom she really loves, and the book comes to a disappointing and abrupt close. Now, I recognize that the entire premise of a VNRN is that the young lady is supposed to choose a fella by book’s end, but I’d like to feel that her choice is a sound one, and well thought out. Here her decision, given top billing in the book’s title, is mostly just the thing that came easiest. It’s the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise excellent book—but since Jill really spends little time at all thinking of her love life, this book is certainly worth reading, whether you’ve met her in the previous two volumes or not.

Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty

Book 4 of 4
By Adeline McElfresh, ©1966
Cover illustration by Victor Livoti

When Jill accompanied Carol Winston to Pinetop Farm, she knew her patient was in need of more than her medical skill. But Jill’s training had not taught her how to heal an almost broken marriage …


“I’m a whiz with a Toni.”

“Taffy was surprisingly chipper for someone whose dura had gushed blood the instant it was opened.”

“She was a nurse, not a teen who at long long last has been noticed by the school’s basketball hero.”

He sensed her hesitation as skillfully as, during surgery, he would have ferreted out a bit of malignant tissue that must be dissected.”

When I read a VNRN, I tuck an oversized index card into it and make notes as I read on particular passages or plot twists I want to revisit as I write my review. With Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty, however, my card is covered with accounting: the number of times Adeline McElfresh used one of her favorite compound adjectives, “deckle-edged” (two), the variations of people speaking insert adjective here–toned (written just like that, following the verb) (seven: deep, quiet, low, firm, sharp, soft, and warm), the number of times someone freaks out and screams, “Oh God!” (when it’s the nurse) or “Oh Christ!” (when it’s a man) (9 and 7, respectively), the number of times someone calls someone “darling” (too many to count, or five times in just the letter one character writes to her husband asking for a divorce) or any other endearment (zero)—and I haven’t even started discussing how often McElfresh’s prose plunges right off the cliff into the Valley of the Vapid (“sent wind fingers exploring through her hair”), or how Jill’s poor sternum really takes a beating (“an icy lancet scraped behind Jill’s sternum,” “renewed malaise nibbling behind her sternum,” “the icy lancet behind Jill’s breastbone had become a handful of scalpels, indiscriminately wielded”), or the long, boring medical descriptions (“the rate of the infusion had been greatly decreased from the rapid 100-drops-a-minute pace that at first had carried the glucose-sodium chloride-aqueous cortical extract-plasma-penicillin combination into the basilic vein in her right arm”). Really, this book was just too much for me to take.

If at this point you have any interest in hearing about the stupid plot, you are made of firmer stuff than me, but here’s the gist: Our heroine Jill Nolan, with whom we have already plodded with varying degrees of willingness through three other books, is here asked by her fiancé, Giff (Dr. Donald Jonathan Gifford to everyone else), to go with his childhood friend, Carol Cadwallader Winston, back to Carol’s hometown to nurse her through her treatment for Addison’s disease. Carol had wanted to be a pediatrician but had dropped out of medical school in her final year to marry Paul Winston, and we are reminded of this tragic personal sacrifice on virtually every page, as Carol is always embedded in a medical book or journal or mentioning how she had wanted to be a doctor or teaching the girl next door how to make medical tinctures to give her dolls. Paul is a historical romance novelist, if you can believe it, and is working on a horrifyingly long novel (he’s at chapter 23 at book’s open) with his pretty, dedicated, young secretary Susan Morrisey. Carol is convinced that Paul is having an affair with Susan, and actually so is Nurse Jill, after she hears Paul talking to Susan on the phone late one night, saying that everyone will be in bed by 9:00, which clearly indicates that he is “planning an assignation,” that bastard. Jill goes around telling everyone else of her suspicions, and constantly frets that Carol’s worry over the affair is going to send her into an Addisonian crisis that will kill her. No amount of time that Paul spends with Carol or his reasonable explanations for what the ladies paranoically see as suspicious behavior convince them otherwise—until page 123, when Jill suddenly makes a complete about-face and fervently argues with Carol that she’s wrong about Susan and Paul, and seems to believe it, too.

The two major twists in the plot are when ten-year-old Taffy falls off a horse and suffers a subdural hematoma, Nurse Jill of course being sent to the hospital to nurse her, and when Jill suddenly thinks she’s in love with Carol’s brother Michael, with whom she has exchanged about ten pages of brief conversation. As abrupt as her conversion to believing Paul is not in love with Susan, Jill’s devotion swerves erratically back to Giff, which sets up her “hungry” kiss with him in the last paragraph, and my nausea. There are some truly revolting love scenes, the final one almost causing me to heave violently on the morning train. It may be cruel of me, and feel free to skip ahead if you are weak of stomach, but here is just one alarming example: “His kiss had been gentle at first and then hungry, as their love had grown of late; Jill was poignantly conscious of its remembered warmth and yearning on her lips. Oh, how I am going to miss you, Giff, darling!” The married couple abruptly lurches back together in the end and sets sail for Bora Bora, but Carol's continued deep regret over giving up her career is never addressed, perhaps because we're supposed to think that if a woman has a man in her life she doesn't need anything else. 

Honestly, I think you might not find this book as horrible as I did, which I think is in no small part due to an overdose of McElfresh (I’ve read 11 of her books, though never graded her as badly as I did this time around; she had a B- average up until now). But after this, all I can say is Oh God! No, wait, I mean how I am not going to miss you, Jill Nolan, darling! No, just that I am going to have to take a long long vacation from Adeline McElfresh.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Heartbreak Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1968
Cover illustrated by Allan Kass

She knew from the moment he called that Dr. Dean Warner was disturbed. Very disturbed. A tragic accident had critically injured a 5-year-old child and Nurse Lillian Bryant was called upon to deliver superhuman services. As the days passed Lillian puzzled at Dean Warner’s passionate involvement with the child’s welfare, a concern which was bringing him to the point of collapse. Then the rumors began. About Dean and the child’s exotic mother. About a forgotten youth. About the man Lillian loved who expected her to give her own life for a beautiful nightmare out of his past.


“Don’t hold your breath, but in a few months Vernon might advance to the chaste-kiss-on-the-forehead stage. I never believe in rushing these mad, impetuous types. He’s probably all wracked up with guilt over that hand-holding bit.”

Lillian Bryant is the rare VNRN heroine without a boyfriend, and this is not the boys’ fault; she’s rejected men so determinedly that they don’t come knocking on her door any more. Her determined bachelorette status is because she’s hopelessly in love with Dr. Dean Warner, who shows really not one admirable quality that might merit such unswerving devotion. In Chapter One, he’s called Lillian in to the hospital to special five-year-old Patty Ellsworth, who has had some sort of accident with a construction vehicle on her father Howard’s construction site, which has left her near death and with threatened loss of multiple limbs. Dean is out-of-his-mind frantic, and consults pretty much every doctor in the county, then screams at them over their grim conclusions—and he makes mincemeat of all the nurses, including Lillian. And she, naturally, thinks, “She had never loved him as deeply. Even when his nerves had snapped, earlier, and his criticism had become abusive, she had only yearned for the right to put her arms around him.” Because nothing is so alluring as verbal abuse.

After too many days of this intolerable behavior, Dean is ordered from the building, but he’s still out of control for a week, until it seems Patty is on the mend—she wakes, recognizes “Docky Dean,” and strangely makes no request for her parents, which is a good thing, since they rarely bother to show up for a visit. So what’s the deal with one doctor’s fanatical devotion to a child her parents don’t care for? Stay tuned for a shocking turn of events …

Lillian isn’t the only woman here in love with a loser; her roommate Bertha, who is, poor thing, not beautiful, and described as such in relentless and near-mocking terms. As a result of this tragedy, “facing a possible lifetime of living alone, Bertha poured a supercharge of energy into any contact that might end at the altar.” The current target she’s aimed at is Vernon Jessup, a “massive” “colorless administrator,” an “amiable clod” without a sense of humor and a proclivity for “insipid” conversation. Bertha, naturally, falls deeply in love with him.

The bulk of the book follows Patty’s recovery, Dean’s hyper-platonic exchanges with Lillian, and Bertha’s increasing frustration with Vernon’s mooching—and Vernon  eventually breaks a date last-minute with Bertha to propose marriage to Lillian, the swine, his main motivation being that she is “exceptionally beautiful.” Stunned, she can’t muster the strength to slap him across the face.

The crisis comes when Patty’s being discharged. Mom Carmen Ellsworth refuses to be even slightly kind as Patty despairs over leaving the only people who actually care for her, and Dean chastises Lillian for losing her cool with Carmen. In tears in the hallway and furious that Dean defends Carmen’s cruelty to her daughter, Lillian shouts, in full auditory proximity to the nurse’s station, “If you weren’t so calloused that you think … you think I’m just a … just a medical machine … I don’t know how I could have fallen in love with someone so …” Then, realizing too late what she’s said, she dashes off to quit, stopping by Vernon’s office to give notice but forgets that simple chore and instead tells him off himhimas well, saying that Bertha loves him but he doesn’t deserve her. Arriving home, she finds that Bertha has packed Lillian’s bags for her, having heard through the grapevine that Vernon proposed to her, and she refuses to listen to her explanations. Stowing her stuff in her car, Lillian decides to head for LA but, wiped out by the Worst Day Ever, stops at a hotel for the night and runs into Patty’s father, who has left Carmen and is filing for divorce. He reveals to Lillian that Carmen had once been married to Dr. Dean, for about ten minutes, long enough to conceive Patty and obtain a divorce in Reno before Carmen knew she was pregnant. Patty has never known that her close family friend Docky Dean is actually her biological father.

Lillian stumbles to her room and passes out in exhaustion and despair, only to be awoken the next morning by the phone. It’s Bertha, who was tipped to Lillian’s location by Howard Ellsworth, and she reports that after Lillian had ripped Vernon to shreds, he’d hauled his bleeding carcass to Bertha, dropped to one knee and professed undying love. Oh, and Patty’s been readmitted to the hospital, and Dr. Dean is desperate to find her.

Back to the hospital Lillian flies, only to run into Carmen in the waiting room, who tells her that she’s going to give custody of Patty to Dean—and Dean, utterly out of the blue, takes Lillian in his arms and proposes. “I don’t want you just to take care of Patty,” says the romantic fool. “Nurses can resign. And housekeepers have a way of quitting.” Gosh, how sweet.

This book is a fast read that takes you nowhere, really, except maybe a gas station on a desert road.  The plot is nonexistent, the characters are two-dimensional at best, and the writing is half-hearted and uninspired. I can’t believe that either Lillian or Bertha could be happy with these cold, exploitative men, and I can’t believe any reader will enjoy this perfunctory, uninteresting book.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Nurse Penny

By Suzanne Roberts, ©1968
Cover illustration by Don Stivers

Penny Alden came to the plush Ritter Clinic in wealthy Palm Beach for one reason—to gain the nursing skills she needed to help her fiancé, Dr. Kevin Flanagan, in operating a rural hospital for the poor and needy. But at the Clinic the lovely young nurse found that even her dedication was not immune to the pleasures of a sun-filled, carefree life—or to the attentions of handsome, playboy-doctor Mark Hobson. How could she have let this happen, Penny desperately wondered. How could she have fallen in love with one man while engaged to another? How could she stop her foolish heart from betraying all she believed in? Torn by conflicting emotions, Penny desperately searched for her right path as a nurse—and as a woman.


“She would, as his wife, have to learn to take a back seat, for that was as it should be.”

Nurse Penny is another of those nurses who has worshipped her fiancé, Kevin Flanagan, since she was a bitty girl in rural Georgia, following him around like an obsessed puppy, remaining utterly devoted through his years away for his medical training—even becoming a nurse because she thought it would please him. Now she and Kevin, who is shaping up to be one of the world’s greatest surgeons, are working to build a small hospital in their backwoods community. To that end, Kevin has decided that Penny should go work in Palm Beach for a year at the hospital where he did his fellowship so that she can learn about their research methods and nursing as well. She’s not sure she wants to go, but “she was so used to having Kevin be the  boss that she decided to say no more about it.” So off she packs to Florida, where she finds the lavish lifestyle quite shocking—and enjoys shocking back, by donning her threadbare hillbilly clothes, though with her paycheck she could afford to go buy better—and the workload laughably light, so it’s not clear if she’s actually learning anything from a nursing perspective by caring for rich hypochondriacs.

In her spare time, she is hanging out in the research lab and typing up unspecified notes to send back to Kev. She also walks out a lot to the pier, and early on is waked by Dr. Mark Hobson when he pulls in to the dock in his cigarette boat. She is furious at Mark’s arrogance—“I don’t like him at all!” she decides—so we savvy readers instantly recognize that it won’t be long before she falls into his arms.

Indeed, Mark quickly turns out to be very different from how he appeared at their first meeting, and soon Penny’s little heart is all atwitter every time Mark is near. She snaps at him a lot, though, because he’s super-rich and she’s a snob. But eventually she gives in to her attraction to him—and now we have pages and pages of her insisting to herself that she’s really in love with Kevin even if she’s never felt the same kind of thrill when he’s near, just a sort of sisterly affection for the man she’s determined she’s going to marry because she promised! At a glacial pace Penny starts to creep toward choosing passion over friendship—but then when she’s home for a weekend, Kevin is feeling a little nauseous—and as with the foreboding cough, we can easily predict that his days are numbered. Sure enough, he drops dead of a congenital heart defect, which utterly lets Penny off the hook in terms of standing up for what she believes in, or at least what she ought to believe if she ever gets around to it.

With Kevin gone, everyone believes the plan for the rural clinic is as DOA as Kevin was, since Penny, who has been ferociously dedicated to this dream, is never considered as someone who could make it happen—although actually, with all her contacts in Palm Beach, she is in fact ideally suited to raise money, and has even already collected $5,000 from Mark’s mother. But she’s a girl—so she goes back to try to manage the healthcare of the entire community alone, with a flu epidemic crashing down on them all, so Penny is working 18-hour days and driving herself and Kevin’s dilapidated jalopy into the ground—if only there was some man who would show up and solve all her problems!

This book is dull at best, irritating at worst, with all Penny’s endless waffling about whether she should  marry a man she isn’t really in love with. The book’s failure to see Penny as having any power, either to decide her own life (Kevin’s early exit is a copout), or even to provide care for her community (did the author have to subject her to an medical crisis? Or if she did, why couldn’t Penny have reached out for help and so managed the situation herself?) makes her largely a victim of circumstances. While fortunately ending happily for Penny, she is a passive character who needs the men in her life to rescue her, either by dying or by showing up with a working automobile, a medical license, and a trust fund. As a result, we don’t have a great time following this limp dishrag of a heroine, so I can only suggest that you let this Penny drop.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Nurse with a Problem

By Jane Marnay, ©1957

Only her work as a hospital nurse kept Noelle Carlyon from giving way to despair when her sister Leoni married Timothy Yorke—the man Noelle loved. Knowing that Leoni was not in love with Timothy made the position even harder to accept; Noelle could foresee tragedy for her spoilt young sister. Then John Corringway, a brilliant young surgeon, proposed marriage to Noelle, but Noelle, whose emotions were still centred on Timothy, could not accept, for to her there should be no marriage without shared, equal love.  A trip to South Africa gave Noelle time to clear her confused thoughts, but she had yet to play a part in a tragedy before she found true happiness.


“Don’t try out your fatal charm on me. I’m much too hard-boiled.”

I couldn’t help, every time I picked up this book, singing the Elvis Costello song: “I feel like a boy with a problem”—except, of course, with a nurse instead, who here is Noelle Carlyon, and who has multiple problems that must be sorted through. In the first half of the book, her problem is that she’s in love with Dr. Timothy  Yorke—but he’s in love with her sister Leoni, and she’s in love with a married man, in the most nauseating way: She’s abandoned her career as an actress in London to come home and sob into her pillow for days on end—and to agree to marry Timothy to go off to Nigeria with him, even though she doesn’t love him.

Noelle, meanwhile, is sweetly courted by Dr. John Corringway, who takes her out for long conversations and pleasant walks and hot tea. He is smart, funny, kind, considerate, and gently presses his suit in a way that genuinely won my own heart. Noelle, however, does not reciprocate his romantic feelings, and the first hundred pages of the book follow her relentlessly circular debates about whether she should marry a man whom she esteems greatly but does not love. Frankly, it gets more than a little dull.

Eventually Noelle takes a gig as travelling nurse to a rich woman who is going to South Africa to see her daughter, and though the back cover paints this trip as a big turning point, it is really just a blip in the story except that on the boat home Noelle runs into Timothy’s black-sheep brother, Rory, and spends a lot of time hanging out with him. He is by far the most interesting character in the book, a playboy two-bit actor (anyone else see the impending connection?) who romances with lines like, “No girl has a right to be such a bewitching temptation if she doesn’t expect to be kissed.”

Back at home, Leoni and Timothy come back early from Nigeria—he’s abandoned his dreams to practice medicine there because Leoni has had a premature baby and has fallen quite to pieces afterward. Timothy asks Noelle to move in with the Yorkes to help tend to Leoni, who plays a wan, vapid wraith—likely she has a bad postpartum depression, but here she just comes across as a bigger baby than her newborn son, Bill. Now, finding out that Rory is back in town after many years away in London (another big hint!), Leoni becomes a wan, vapid wraith who seldom leaves her bedroom or stops crying—and guess what!!!—Rory is the married man that Leoni had an affair with!

Gold-digging Rory continues to hang around the extended family because Noelle’s parents are guardians of her orphaned cousin Judy Temple, who is going to inherit a fortune when she turns 21 in two years, and he plans to marry her money. Noelle wants to out him as a married man—although whether he really is married is not certain—and so save Judy, but Rory threatens to reveal that he’d had an affair with Leoni, a fact that she has never told her clueless but devoted husband, and will even throw in the scandalous lie that little Bill is actually his own child!!! So, torn between her desire to save her sister and her cousin and unable to do both, Noelle is stretched thin with anxiety, and seldom able to see John, who worries that her stress is caused by living alongside a man she’s in love with but can’t have.

The family is saved when a woman in London goes to see the movie Witch of the Veldt and recognizes a bit actor on screen, and her husband chases Rory down at the Yorke residence to reveal that his sister is married to Rory. The cad, fleeing in Timothy’s car at high speeds, surprisingly has a catastrophic car crash, and even more amazingly survives, and even more shocking than that, develops permanent amnesia!!!! His wife turns up with their four-year-old daughter to claim him, though it’s not certain how, with his personality and all other physical abilities intact, he is not going to revert to his bounder ways and give her the slip as soon as the casts come off. John drops by to take Noelle to lunch, and—yet another major plot twist—Noelle’s eyes “seemed filled with misty stars” as she tells him she is in love but not with Timothy, and “what happened for the next ten minutes was entirely personal to Noelle and John!” No bodice-ripper this! 

Curiously, when John asks Noelle why she was all tied up in knots at the Yorke house if it wasn’t over unrequited love, she says, “John, dearest, I can’t tell you,” and that’s the end of it. Further, apparently at no point does Leoni ever learn a valuable lesson and tell Timothy the truth of her premarital adventures with Rory, and never discussed is the fact that Timothy has abandoned his life-long dream of practicing medicine in Africa. The transferal of Noelle’s affections from Timothy to John is not really satisfactory, either, since there is no description of her altering feelings when she is living with the Yorkes, or any of her altering feelings toward John, whom she has seen about once in the second half of the book before the fateful luncheon. Other than these oddities, and the dullness of the first half of the book, this is a fairly good story and reasonably fun to read, but don’t beat yourself up if you never get to it.