Monday, December 30, 2019

The Story of Andrea Fields Woman and Doctor

By Elizabeth Seifert, ©1950

"Is that the Doctor?"
"Yes it is."
"Why, she’s a woman!"

Andrea Fields had heard these words many times. But until now she had never doubted herself as a doctor … or as a woman. Because now she knew that Luke Liddell wanted her. That he was ready to take her, without one backward glance at his wife … or the town … or his reputation. She loved Luke. But she loved medicine, too. Yet the inner woman … the trhilling, desirable and desiring creature Luke had awakened in her … hungered for love—demanded love. Luke knew it, too. And Luke would not let her go. How long, how long, she wondered, could she endure it? How long resist?

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
"Holidays are why they have Residents."

"He went to medical school at Harvard or Yale—some eastern school. He’s a nobody, obviously."

"I’ve been a Resident. I know they do anything the janitor doesn’t get around to."

REVIEW:
Sometimes I develop a little grudge against a book, usually through little fault of its own, and my own prejudice makes me keep pushing it to the bottom of the pile. So it was with Andrea Fields, Woman and Doctor. Part of it was the title, which you must acknowledge is a complete dud. And it’s long, 256 pages, so I imagined it to be a conceited thing. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found this truly lovely, smart, rewarding story inside the bland cover.
Woman and Doctor Andrea Fields has returned to her home town of Claxton, Missouri, at the request of her manipulative Aunt Sophia, who has a lot of money and no husband or children, so she’s looking for someone to puppet around. She sends Andrea off to work with the town GP Dr. Martin Luther Faust, one of these ole-timey quacks who really loves his patients but whose methods are a century old. To Dr. Faust’s credit, and Andrea’s, they debate his methods, and he acknowledges his shortcomings, as well as his inability to change in the last few years of his working life. He pushes Andrea to dump him for the shiny new clinic that’s opened up down the street, and soon she is working there full-time with a lovely group of (all male) doctors who practice evidence-based medicine, work collaboratively, and support Andrea as the valuable and talented pediatrician she is.

The only problem is that one of the doctors, Luke Liddell, is a boy whom Andrea grew up with—and whom she fell in love with. She’s arrived in town just four weeks before Luke’s wedding, and though he instantly realizes there’s something between him and Andrea, and admits there is little to nothing between him and the 18-year-old virgin he’s affianced, he goes on with the wedding. It’s his honeymoon, actually, that brings Andrea into the clinic, as he is also a pediatrician, and while he’s away the group needs a locums, and quickly finds that even when Luke comes back, they can’t live without her.

The head of the clinic, a reserved, insightful, intelligent gynecologist named Dr. Hawkins Dolan—most unfortunately, he goes by the name Hawk—is immediately attractive to Andrea, as he is able to trade quips with Andrea as readily as Luke does, but he has a confident stillness about him that she appreciates more than Luke’s boisterous crashing around. Hawk is astute enough to realize the attraction between Andrea and Luke, and gently helps steer Andrea right when she’s most in need of support, but as much as she is attracted to Hawk, he barely acts more than the friend to her.

Luke, on the other hand, is crushing her daily with his flirtations, and after one late night after they perform emergency surgery on a farm table to lift the depressed skull fracture of an 18-month-old who’s been kicked in the head by a mule, Luke pulls into an all-night truck stop to get some coffee—but finds he really needs a little sugar instead—and then it’s even more difficult for Andrea to ignore her deep love for Luke, who now wants her to run away with him, his marriage and their reputations be damned!

From this point on the book is about Andrea’s anguish about whether she should follow her passion or her morals—essentially choose between being a woman (i.e. get the man) or a doctor (i.e. give up love). It’s not tough to figure out which way the wind will blow in the end, but as a genre the VNRN is not known for its surprise endings, and frankly, the ride here is so lovely that it doesn’t matter that the end is obvious.

Andrea herself is one of the best heroines I’ve met. She’s strong and independent, sassy, puts up with no bull, and a very good doctor. Luke and Hawk also are well-drawn, their attractions and their faults depicted with nuance and sophistication. Andrea’s feelings for Luke are also completely real, not at all silly or plastic. Author Elizabeth Seifert can deftly paint a mood, describing homes or scenes that instantly and easily feel completely real. For one quick example, in an effort to shake Luke off, Andrea goes for a drive in the country: "Her hat and gloves and jacket lay on the seat beside her; the day was warm and she was grateful for the freshening air which came from the woods now that the sun was low." Maybe it’s just me, but even with that simple sentence I feel what it’s like to be in that car. The warm camaraderie of the doctors in the clinic, too, is palpable, though a lot harder to depict for you here in a quick quote. Then there’s the story’s sense of humor; this very amusing and witty book gives us lots of very enjoyable exchanges between Andrea and her two main men. To wit: One day Dr. Dolan is trying to guess why Andrea is looking so pleased. "You come into money?" he asks her—but that’s not it. "Catch you a man?" Wrong again. "Then you must have a new hat," he says, and without waiting for an answer, sails off through the OR door. We really do like that Dr. Dolan, even if he must call himself Hawk. The only flaw I can find in this book is that the last third of the book, with Andrea fighting her feelings for Luke in long inner conversations, drags a bit. Also, the binding was a bit tight so holding it up and open with one hand when reading in bed required more effort than usual. But other than that, this is one of the best sort of VNRNs, and I urge you to bear this vapidly titled book no grudge but instead put it at the top of your reading list.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Believe in Miracles


By Florence Stuart, 
pseud. Florence Stonebraker, ©1968

Nurse Clare Kincaid was caught in a web of conflict which was tying her in knots. Dr. Hal Grove, the handsome, brainy, rich psychiatrist, was in love with her, but he would not take on the responsibility of the child who had become so much a part of her. How could Clare leave Tracy, the five-year-old daughter of her adoptive brother Larry? The child was hungry for love and clung to her. Yet Larry, though charming, was totally irresponsible, while holding onto his hope of marrying Clare. To complicate matters still more, Jeff Haymes, a TV personality in Clare’s care, was making sensational proposals to her and extravagant promises to Tracy. Clare had to make a choice. How could she be sure she was making the right one?

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“‘You should wear that white swim suit around the hospital,’ Jeff Haymes told Clare. ‘The male patients would have no further need of wonder drugs.’”

“Try some hot compresses on your heart. See if you can’t warm it up while I’m gone.”

REVIEW:
I love author Florence Stonebraker (here writing as Florence Stuart) so much that I am reluctant to actually read her books because it means there will be one less for me to enjoy (it took me more than a decade to read the last Jane Austen). I needn’t have held off with this one, because enjoy it I did not.

Here we have nurse Clare Kincaid, at 25 a well-established nurse who has managed to hook desirable Dr Hal Grove, a 38-year-old former confirmed bachelor psychiatrist of the Park Avenue type, with a thickly carpeted office suite and highly bankrolled female clientele—we know the type all too well, and he never turns out well, does he, readers? Particularly since in this case he’s a psychiatrist, as author Florence does love a psycho psychiatrist (see also A Nurse Named Courage). The writing is writ especially large here  because Clare is effectively the guardian of her five-year-old niece, whose mother is dead and whose father, Clare’s adopted brother Larry, has abandoned the girl. Little Tracy is now living with Clare and mother Rose, who has suffered several heart attacks and as a result is a near invalid likely to keel over at any second. Clare is essentially a mother to Tracy, but Dr. Hal has absolutely refused to accept Tracy into his home when he and Clare are married. Clare spends a lot of time worrying about what to do—give up Tracy for adoption? Dump Hal and fast is not high on her list of options, unfortunately, though the reader is completely unable to see why.

At work Tracy is caring for wealthy television show star Jeff Haymes, who hosts a sort of gotcha-type program where “he gets people up to interview them; then all he does is make fools of them. He’s made a big name just by insulting people.” Many nurses are won over by Jeff, but not Clare: “She did not imagine she could ever possibly like Jeff as a person.” This means, of course, that they’ll be engaged at book’s end. If Clare is not impressed, Tracy is: Clare had brought Tracy to work one day to cheer up the patients, and never mind how wildly inappropriate that is, but now Tracy is smitten with—brace yourself—“Unk Jeff,” who wants to take her to Disneyland for her birthday.

Though no one has ordered a psych consult, Hal takes it upon himself to interview Jeff, who is recovering from his second plane crash, and tells Jeff that he has suicidal tendencies. Jeff responds by beaning Hal on the head with a crystal ball, and I am not kidding, which makes me think Hal may have a point. And now Hal is insisting Clare stay away from Jeff—but she goes to his room to tell him to stop making empty promises to her lonely little niece. Instead Jeff turns the tables and asks Clare about her own empty promises to Tracy, whom she is considering abandoning to strangers when she marries Hal. Jeff then suggests that he could get Tracy some work in TV commercials so Clare could afford to hire a nanny to look after Tracy while she’s at work. Despite herself, Clare starts to think this Jeff guy isn’t so bad …

Especially after her next date with Hal, when he says he’s arranged the adoption for Tracy that Care had not even agreed to, that he’s taken a job in the Midwest and Clare can come too, get a job, and undergo psychoanalysis—and when she’s cured of her “neurotic attachment to her little niece,” they can be married. Clare rightly calls Hal “a smug, self-centered, swollen-headed creep”—but it that the end of the engagement? Heck, no! It’s not even the end of the date! She lets Hal drive her home, but “there were not let’s-kiss-and-make-up embraces,” which teaches Hal to be a better person.

Or maybe not, because before long, we are questioning Hal’s sanity—and you knew we would. “He ranted and raved; he paced the floor and pounded his fists on the semi-circular metal desk. His face thinned; his cheeks turned a purplish hue.” And we’re only on page 72. There’s still a lot of plot to get through, such as Larry’s very alarming pass at his sister Clare, his decision to take Tracy back and make a lot of money off her impending TV career, Hal’s idea to kidnap Tracy with Jeff’s help, Clare and Tracy’s several appearances on Jeff’s show, including one in which Jeff proposes to Clare on air. In the end, there’s a big showdown in which Tracy is shot “just a fraction above her heart,” and though the injury is described as “just a flesh wound,” but she really whacked her head when she fell down and has been in a coma and on the critical list for a week, and “almost didn’t make it.” Nevermind about gunshot wounds; it’s those bumps on the head that will really kill you.

So many elements of this story are the usual tricks from author Florence Stonebraker’s repertoire: the psycho (Nurse Under Fire, The Nurse from Alaska, and of course Psychiatric Nurse), the unwanted yet fiercely fought-over child (The Nurse from Alaska, Runaway Nurse), the adopted daughter (Ozark Nurse). There is none of the gorgeous writing that she can be capable of (run, do not walk, to find City Doctor and Doctor by Day), and here she’s developed an annoying habit of dropping the quotation marks halfway through a quote and paraphrasing the remainder of the remarks. The characters are not particularly likeable, as Clare is a pathetic pushover who on one hand claims, “I can take care of myself,” but on the other can’t figure out that Hal is a horrible person. Even Jeff, the supposed love interest, is far too arrogant and pushy, telling Clare within minutes of their first meeting that he looked into the crystal ball and “this girl appeared in the crystal, plain as anything. And she had big, beautiful, golden eyes, exactly like yours. Now what do you make of that, sweetheart?” His on-air proposal to Clare screams of an overly controlling stalker, and his attentions to Tracy are too much to be anything but disturbing. This is actually the worst-rated Stonebraker novel of the 16 of her books I’ve read. If you’ve got others on your shelf, don’t bother pick up this one—not even the cover is worth looking at.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Palm Thatched Hospital


By Juliet Shore, ©1963

Doctor Christina Roberts was on her way to Lake Kampili in Kenya, where she was to join her fiancé. But her careful plans went astray when tropical rains left her stranded on the far side of the Umbulu River—in the company of the devastatingly attractive Doctor Dominic Mount.

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“I am at my least successful when in the company of members of the opposite sex. Perhaps during our enforced exile together you can teach me how to be a wow with the ladies.”

“You can’t embark on a career in medicine unless you’re tougher than the rest.”

“Being ‘good friends’ can prove an interesting relationship with no holds barred. You should try it sometime, with somebody.”

REVIEW:
Dr. Christina Roberts has a common problem: She’s engaged to an ass. Melvyn is medical director of a nursing home at Lake Kampili in Kenya, “where you deal with the fads and diets of large and lazy women addicted to hypochondria,” so that’s not a good start—but more than that, he has a “tidy, uncluttered, analytical mind” that thinks not at all about anyone but himself. He’s arranged for Christina to spend a year working in pediatrics—to prepare herself for the job of being his wife and mother of his children, no doubt—and then they are to be married, “which would automatically sever her from her brief, so far undistinguished, medical career,” and never mind the money and years of study that went into the making of it. Fortunately for her, however, she missed a boat and was delayed in her voyage from England to Mombasa Island. This led to her getting caught in the winter monsoon, which had arrived two weeks ahead of schedule, the inconsiderate thing, and washed away the Umbulu bridge, so there is no way for her to reach Lake Kampili until the rains stop and the bridge is rebuilt—in several months. Fortunately, on the road where it meets the Umbulu River is a small palm-thatched hospital. Dr. Dominic Mount and his spinster sister Cicely live and work at this hospital, and Dominic offers Christina a job and a home for the months she is stranded, which she gladly accepts. You do not need me to tell you how this story is going to play out. You can probably even predict that a former girlfriend of Dominic’s, Dr. Delia Courtnay, also manages to get herself stuck at the hospital, a clever plan on her part to try to win Dominic back after she’d left him at the altar to chase after another man.

A few surprises do land in our lap, like the fact that Christina clues in early—and dumps early—her loser fiancé. Also a bit unusual is that the star-crossed lovers actually marry halfway through the book, but this is complicated by the fact that Christine contracts malaria on her wedding day and is packed off to Nairobi to recover with Dr. Delia, who pulls in Melvyn to assist in her plan to break up the marriage by making Christina believe that she was too delirious with fever to render her vows anything but null and void.

The stock characters include the bitter spinster made bright by a pep talk from Christina and a boyfriend, the evil vixen who attempts to steal the man but who is eventually thwarted, the domineering (and properly named) doctor Dom, the mousy little woman afraid to speak her mind, and the shiny Fifth Avenuetype MD who caters to rich anxious, bored women. The surprising thing is that this book is nonetheless fairly enjoyable to read—except that it makes little of its location beyond the heat and humidity, the rain, the flowers, and slight hints of the wonderful way Africans have of personifying objects, such as when Christina’s Kenyan guide George points out, “Bridge—bridge, him gone.” We get an odd take on racism here, where individuals such as George and other Kenyan hospital staff are hard-working and intelligent. Indeed, Dominic is praised as “a man who recognized character and achievement in anyone and everyone”—while simultaneously dismissing entire groups of people as “children,” so I’m sending off another check of atonement to the UNCF as my penance for reading racist books. If the plot winds up predictably and the last page with a whimper, you could still do worse than to spend time in the palm-thatched hospital, even if they’ve neglected to include the hyphen in the title.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Susan Latimer, Clinic Nurse


By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1957

Can a girl really forget the man she has once loved? That was the question Nurse Susan Latimer had to find an answer to. It had been two years since debonair Chris Graham had deserted her for another woman, yet the memory still hurt. Now he was back, acting as if nothing had happened. Could she bring herself to forgive him? Did she still love him? She didn’t know. Then there was handsome Dr. Delevan, constantly underfoot and eager to be friendly, but she couldn’t say a civil word to him. Why? There had to be a reason and Susan had to find the answer soon if she was ever to learn the truth about herself.

GRADE: C

BEST QUOTES:
“It’s different with a girl, Gramp. A man’s life is broader. He can go places, do all sorts of things, where a girl’s is limited.”

REVIEW:
Susan Latimer is a nurse at an odd sort of clinic where they appear to do gallbladder surgery in the office. The doctor she works for is on the verge of collapse from overwork, and indeed at one point is forced to take a couple weeks off to recover from a heart attack. A convenient potential replacement, though, in the form of Dr. John W. Delevan, has been hanging around the house for unspecified reasons. A former pupil of Gramp’s, who’d been a GP, Johnny is in town on what appears to be a permanent vacation from his life in Chicago, where he is being raised by his wealthy socialite aunt to become a wealthy socialite doctor with a wealthy socialite wife. Angela is auditioning for that last role, and shows up on Susan’s porch to sob entreaties that Susan convince Johnny to return home to Chicago and go through with their wedding. Susan, meanwhile, has disliked Johnny from the minute she accidentally drenched him with her garden hose, tee hee! “A strange young man, Johnny Delevan. She didn’t believe she could ever really like him, or understand him.” It seems a bit of a leap when she’s barely spoken to the man, but Susan, who otherwise befriends every stray cat, fiancée, and homeless drug-seeking waif, continues her unrelenting prejudice, claiming that they are “from different worlds. We have nothing in common.” But they do hang around together from time to time, usually with Susan being decidedly and unreasonably frosty. There’s just no possible way Susan and Johnny could ever be friends, much less anything more!

The plot is made up of a series of minor incidents, including the neighbor who turns out to be an heiress so distraught by her parents’ divorce that she dumps her fiancé and runs away: “Well, how could I believe in love anymore? I tried to believe, but I couldn’t.” Problem solved when she learns her parents have reconciled, and five minutes later she’s booked a reception hall and a plane back to her fiancé, God help the poor man. Then there’s Johnny’s friend Bill, who’s come to town to meet his fiancée, a sheltered innocent disobeying her mother to elope—but Elaine doesn’t arrive on the train, and there’s a tense couple of weeks with Bill moping around looking increasingly thin and distraught while Johnny and Susan argue whether Elaine is ever going to get there—yes she is—no she isn’t—until Susan just happens to run into her aimlessly wandering the streets. “I—I just got scared, I guess,” Elaine explains, all is forgiven, and Susan plans and executes a wedding in just 90 minutes.

And that’s just 20 pages of the book. To fill out the rest of it, on several occasions Susan and Johnny drive around looking for a house he used to live in, but they never find it. Susan loses control running down a mountain and nearly trips and falls, but Johnny catches her. Susan chews out Johnny for leaving Angela. Johnny hints on many occasions that he’s been played for a fool by women and will never fall for one again, thought any story that explains his hints never arrives. The man Susan had been engaged to but who had dumped her two years ago turns up and insists that she marry him next week. “You know you’re going to marry me,” he tells her. “You still love me.” Sure she does; how could she resist such a persuasive manner? Johnny tells Susan that he had been engaged to Angela but she had broken it off, then later changed her mind, but he did not want her back. And then Johnny goes back to Chicago, unable to refuse his aunt.

The conclusion is completely obvious and even nonsensical, as Susan goes from telling Johnny they can’t ever be friends, because, well, “I—it’s just a feeling I have,” she tells him firmly, to “Susan’s soft brown eyes were shining as she looked up at him” on the last page, because they’d “been fighting our love for each other long enough,” the excuse being that she thought he loved Angela and he thought she loved her ex-boyfriend, even if their animosity predated knowledge of either potential rival. Every hiccup in the story is wrapped up in a neat, sappy bow except, curiously, Johnny never finds his old house, which I’d have bet $1,000 he was going to buy for his new bride. Maybe author Maud McCurdy Welch lost track of that one of the many plot threads she’d scattered throughout the story. I felt as though I had read this book before; it has the atmosphere of a 1950s-era neighborhood, replete with many hours spent on the front porch with Gramp and Susan’s various young men. If not overtly bad, the mini stories aren’t that compelling, I didn’t enjoy any of the characters, and there’s a smidge too much nonsense and treacle here to make this an enjoyable book.