Saturday, June 29, 2019

Make up Your Mind Nurse

By Phyllis Matthewman, ©1964

Staff Nurse Tracy Morland was the most envied girl in the hospital when eligible Doctor Colin Brent asked her to marry him. She accepted, and then found the demands of her career interfering with their marriage plans. But would she have let them interfere if she had been truly in love?


“When we’re married it’s me you’ll be required to worry about and plan for, and don’t you forget it.”

Nurse Tracy Morland really likes Dr. Colin Brent. He is a hot tomato of a medico who goes around flirting with all the nurses, but in the past three months he seems to have settled on Tracy, to such an extent that he’s pressuring her to marry him. She’s, well, just not sure! “What I do know is that Colin means more to me than any other man,” she tells her best friend Jean. “I love going about with him, and I know I should feel frightfully flat if all that stopped. But liking to be with a man doesn’t mean you want to be married to him. In some ways it would be lovely, of course, but I hate the idea of having to consider someone else all the time. I do love him, Jean, but I’m not sure if I love him enough.” Jean, at least, has some sense and tells Tracy quite firmly that she does not love him enough and should not marry Colin. This is exactly what everyone else says, but Tracy, not one to listen to reason, goes and accepts him anyway.

On the evening of their engagement, which is 80 waffling pages in arriving, she is introduced to Colin’s older brother Neville, who is a sea captain. Needless to say, the pair hit it off immediately. “I don’t feel as if you’re a stranger,” Neville tells her within minutes of their meeting. “The way you move and speak; you yourself, in fact, are so familiar that it’s as if you were someone I used to know very well but haven’t met for a long time.” Further telegraphing occurs when they hit the dance floor later on: “Is it that our steps fit unusually well?” he asks her. “I seem to know exactly what you want me to do next,” she answers. “It’s rather fascinating.”

What’s not fascinating is that when Neville promptly embarks on another three-month tour, we are left to pages and pages of Tracy’s confusion about whether she loves Colin enough to marry him, even though “the times they spent together she found perfectly satisfactory,” and we are forced to suffer through her attempts to stave off what should be the inevitable marriage. And his attempts to convince her to give up her career once they are married, about which she is feeling very reluctant. Meanwhile, all their friends watch this unfold, and think to themselves how Neville is really the better man for Tracy, while the cute physical therapist Rietta is the better woman for Colin: “Tracy was too direct to disguise the fact that she often thought her own way the  best, and Colin was not forceful enough, except where his work was concerned, to domineer over her when he thought her wrong. Rietta, with a much more feminine outlook, would have managed things very differently. She would have made Colin take the lead and would have deferred to him, but she would have made sure that he wanted what she wanted, and this without Colin guessing that his ideas had been hers in the first place.” A happy wife is a devious, manipulative one, apparently.

Eventually, when Neville writes a letter to Rietta, Tracy becomes wildly jealous and so finally figures out that—you are not going to believe this—“what she felt for Colin was a pale reflection of what she felt for Neville,” a man she’s spent one day and one evening with. If she takes 150 pages to finally figure it out, she immediately sets off to let Colin down, only to stumble over VNRN Trope #54, which is that Colin has been in a car crash and may be unable to walk again, so how can she break up with him now? (Flashback to Tender Nurse, which wasn’t any better than this book.) If only there were a beautiful and charming physical therapist who is so much better suited for Colin than Tracy is who is going to be working with Colin on a daily basis and could set him to rights!

If that groaner weren’t enough for us, Neville returns from the sea and has a heart-to-heart with his brother, in which Colin admits he’s actually in love with Rietta and says, “A pity you didn’t meet Tracy first. It might have saved all of us a good deal of trouble, not to mention a certain amount of unhappiness,” and it’s entirely possible that he is including us readers in the list of victims. Neville teams up with the resourceful and self-interested Rietta to ambush Tracy at Rietta’s apartment that night, and the trap works: The minute he walks through the door, “the sound of love and longing in her voice and the glad, incredulous look in her eyes” tells all, and they confess their undying love for each other. We know it’s meant to be by the domineering tone Neville immediately takes with her: “You’re mine, my girl, and I won’t ever let you go,” he says during their first embrace, and shortly after tells her he’ll make his own decisions, which is that she’s going to marry him, though uninformed readers might have thought that was her decision to make. “It never would have done if Neville hadn’t had the sense to force things,” she tells Colin when they do end their engagement. Because all a headstrong woman needs is a bossy man to rein her in. Neville does, however, realize how important nursing is to Tracy and tells her that she should get a job as nurse on his ship, and they can sail the seven seas together. But when she says that on their journeys around the world she wants to pop in and say hello to a longtime patient who’d taken up a lot of subplot in the book and then moved to Australia, he bizarrely says no. Well, she doesn’t care after all: “It’s you I want and who counts with me, darling, and it always will be,” she says, and my disgust with this book was complete.

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