Saturday, December 21, 2019

Believe in Miracles

By Florence Stuart, 
pseud. Florence Stonebraker, ©1968
Also published as Celebrity Nurse and Television Nurse

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?


“‘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.”

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.

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