It seemed that all Stephen Fendrick lived for was his work as a consultant, and it was to take a sick child and Staff Nurse Susie Conway to prove that there were things in life which mattered more.
“He was known to be ‘allergic’ to the opposite sex.”
Susie Conway is a pediatric nurse typical of the VNRN: She is desperately in love with Dr. Stephen Fendrick, though as far as his feelings go, she is “unsure of anything and everything about him except the knowledge that she loved him with every fiber of her being, that she had done so all the time she had known him, and would continue to do so to the end of her days.” He is a cold, driven machine focused on nothing but making a name for himself as the world’s greatest pediatrician, so her fanatical devotion to him seems rather undeserved. “If only he would indicate that he was the slightest bit interested in her as a person, she would wait quite willingly, for as long as he deemed necessary for anything more,” she thinks. I always get a sinking feeling when, upon meeting the woman I’m going to be spending the next 100+ pages with, I find she is a spineless, pathetic doormat. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had a few painful unrequited crushes in my day, but when the object of her martyrdom is essentially a cipher—and they’re often overtly nasty jerks; see Beth Lloyd, Surgical Nurse and TV Nurse, to name a few—I just can’t feel anything but disgust at her ridiculous self-sacrifice.
The crux of the story revolves around a four-year-old girl, Fenella Edison, who is brought to the hospital after climbing into one of the family cars and attempting to drive off to see her mother, a superstar model who travels on business a great deal of time. Fenella can’t reach the pedals, so how she managed to turn on the car is a bit of a mystery, but she drives into the wall surrounding the family estate and suffers a concussion. Fenella’s father Philip is quite devoted to his little daughter, but as a successful businessman he does not have a lot of time to devote to her, and naturally the book views it as a shocking sacrifice on his part that he is with her as much as he is—out of necessity, since his wife is always out of town. Fenella’s mother, the heartless bitch, persists in having her own successful career, one her husband supports wholeheartedly, but we know she doesn’t deserve it because she’s abandoned her daughter at home, and not only that, she kept her maiden name! Her atrocious behavior is held up for our contempt on virtually every other page: “If Petal Highbridge really cared about either her handsome and charming wealthy husband or the lovely little girl who was her daughter, she would be well advised to spend less time on her chosen career, successful though it might be, and more on her home and her small but pleasant family.”
Susie and Stephen are conspiring to help Fenella by setting up a residential nursery school that she can attend, so Fenella goes to school during the day and sleeps over at Susie’s house, though I’m not sure how living with Susie’s mother is better than being in her own home with her own father. It seems the author thinks that having any woman at all care for you is better than having a male parent; of course Fenella has a housekeeper and governess at home, but these women are foreigners—Italians!—so there you go. Also perplexing is the author’s treatment of Fenella’s felllow students’ mothers, who also work during the day: For them the school is part of the sympathetic village that helps to raise the children, while Petal is despised because she does not do it alone. We even meet some of these working mothers, but they are supported and encouraged by Susie as devoted mothers. Is part of Petal’s crime that she works when she is wealthy enough not to have to?
Susie and Stephen continue their meddling in the Edison family when they decide that Petal should have “another child, the son Philip’s always saying he hopes they have one day. Fenella would be happier and they would have learned by experience that there are other things which matter just as much as money … love, and just someone being there when they’re needed or even just wanted.” It’s difficult to imagine how they’re going to pull off this pregnancy, much less contrive a Y chromosome and then imbue it with these transformative powers when the first one didn’t seem to do the job. Maybe it’s the gender of the baby that makes all the difference?
Gradually Stephen spends more time with Susie, at first with extracurricular efforts to interfere in the Edison’s home life, and then sliding into dates, he going so far as to ask her to a couple of dances and bring her roses. You know eventually he will get around to opening his own eyes to the advantages of the family he’s working so hard to obtain for the Edisons. He doesn’t actually commit during the book’s pages, though in the penultimate page he’s given the huge promotion he’s always wanted, and asks Susie out for a very special evening in the last paragraph, so in the end he eats his cake and has it too, failing to commit to a relationship until he’s secure in his professional success. Comparing his career track to Petal’s, it is hard to see why one person is viewed as a winner after he achieves both career success and fiancée while the other is only a half-empty heartless loser until she gives up her career and, yes, becomes pregnant with what is sure to be that longed-for magical son.
Another big problem with this book is that it can’t use three words when they could be stretched taffy-like into three paragraphs. Every drive down the street yields a description of each house they pass and its residents; a simple card Stephen includes with the roses he gives Susie reads, “May the fragrance of these roses remind you of the sweetness and beauty of your home life, and their beauty of form remind you that the opulence of Moor Top can be matched everywhere by nature herself, and in the hope that the combined fragrance and beauty will bring a measure of the same happiness to you as so much that you are responsible for brings to other people.” Phew! In the end the story drags on and on and on and on, and really isn’t all that interesting at baseline, so what we end up with is a pretty dull book in which we watch our heroine moon over a fairly bland man who hasn’t done anything to deserve it.