By Rubie Saunders, ©1971
Cover illustration by Robert Abbett
How many very overworked young nurses get to spend three beautiful weeks on a Caribbean luxury liner—with pay, no less! Marilyn Morgan knew she was lucky, but she also knew she’d miss New York, the hospital, her friends, and especially a certain young doctor named Matt … But what promised to be a restful cruise to the Islands turned out to be a whirlwind voyage to excitement and romance—complete with a dashing ship’s officer who made New York and the hospital and Matt seem dangerously far away …
“Pretty, talented girls are supposed to be lousy cooks.”
“My, you certainly are a beautiful broad!”
“I was thinking how much fun it would be to give you mouth to mouth resuscitation.”
“This old-fashioned music has one great asset; a guy gets to hold his girl in his arms!”
“Harmless! What a terrible thing to say!”
“I think she’s even more intelligent than any of us thought. What a pity!”
“You can learn a lot from detective novels, like how to murder your wife.”
“I’m getting the big rush simply because I’m the only broad on board who doesn’t have acne or gray hair.”
“If there’s anything I don’t appreciate, it’s a girl with strength of character.”
Note: This VNRN series is not being reviewed in order; the first book in the series, Marilyn Morgan, R.N., is the only other one I’ve read so far.
As this book opens we hear a lot about how nurse Marilyn Morgan is soooo overworked. “This is the third time straight this month you’ve worked 16 hours straight!” gasps her roommate Marcia Goldstein. “At the rate you’re going, you’ll wind up being a patient at City Hospital instead of being one of its best nurses.” As a PA who works a 24-hour shift every week, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy, and I do wonder how the nurses square poor Marilyn’s work schedule with those of the residents who work more than 80 hours a week. But since Marilyn is losing weight and is “always tired,” her many friends team up to throw her a party and find her a three-week job on a cruise line.
Marilyn has a pretty great life in her New York apartment, throwing lots of parties, smooching with Bill and Matt, and drinking a shocking amount of vodka and tonics. She’s pretty hot for Matt, who kisses her until her knees are weak and she has to throw him out of the apartment or risk her virtue, but she’s not sure she’s in love with him. In any event, “she was sure she wasn’t ready to be tied down to anyone yet.” On the other hand, she also seems to enjoy her young men: As she sets off for another hot date, she thinks, “This was one evening she didn’t want to end with a handshake!”
But off she goes on her cruise, which mainly involves hanging out with the purser, Barney Davis, a native of Jamaica (he has to tell her where he’s from; she doesn’t place his accent). Being nurse on a cruise ship means passing out a lot of pills for seasickness and telling a young girl that she has menstrual cramps “because you think you’re supposed to have them,” which reminds us to be grateful we don’t live back in the days when women’s pain was dismissed as psychosomatic. So Marilyn has a lot of time for socializing, spending days and nights ashore when the boat is docked, even when there’s a patient in sick bay. She even spends two days in Jamaica with Barney, meeting his family, and drinking too much and getting kissed by numerous strangers at a Mardi Gras party. In her drunken stupor, she kisses Barney a lot and he obliquely proposes, but she fends him off.
Back on board, the ship passes through the “most disastrous hurricane in years,” but the 36-hour storm is over in four paragraphs, and never mind that Marilyn secretly drugs the complaining Mrs. Haynes by slipping a sedative into her coffee, because even if “it may have been unethical, but it probably saved Mrs. Haynes from being tossed overboard by Captain Barker or some other member of the crew.” As she’s heading back to her cabin, she thinks about how grateful she is that she’s been too busy to see Barney, because “things between them were getting too hot for comfort.” Naturally her next thought is “she’d look him up now.” But she’s suddenly overcome with fatigue and goes to her cabin to sleep. When she wakes up, the ship is docking in New York, so she’s saved from his passionate clutches again. As she emerges on deck, she runs into Barney and he asks her if he was just a fling. “I’d like to see you again, so please call me,” she tells him, and they kiss until she is “weak-kneed and breathless.” And then she’s thinking about Bill and Matt, and heads back to her cabin to pack, and that’s the end of the book.
One of the interesting aspects of this book is race: Marilyn is black, as are all her main boyfriends, but on occasion white men will also make suggestive remarks to her, such as when the Swedish first mate tells her, “I shall become sick just for the pleasure of having you nurse me back to health.” It is refreshing to find in a VNRN black characters who speak with perfect grammar, who are strong, smart people with successful careers. Author Rubie Saunders writes with a wonderful sense of humor, much better than most; Diane Frazer (pseudonym of Dorothy Fletcher) is the only author who readily leaps to my mind as a rival to Saunders. If this book isn’t exactly a true VNRN, since it leaves the heroine unengaged at the end and no fewer than three contenders, in a way that’s more honest than other VNRN series that have the heroine engaged to five men in as many books just to keep it going (I’m looking at you, Dr. Jane, Nurse Jill Nolan, and the disturbing Jane Arden, whom you can thank heaven you haven’t met yet, but all I can say is Look out!). I can’t exactly say that this book is worth $82.50 (what it’s (not) selling for on Abebooks), but I found my copy for $12.50 after diligent weekly web searches, and it is definitely worth that. We have two more volumes to spend with Marilyn, and this is the first series that I am actually hopeful will give us a character who can be stretched out that long without becoming way too thin.