Monday, January 27, 2020

Candy Stripers

By Lee Wyndham, ©1958

Bonnie Schuyler let herself be talked into joining the Candy Stripers. As a junior aide at the Medical Center, she lightened the heavy work load each regular nurse had. But she sometimes wondered why she was there—she didn’t plan to be a nurse; it was hard work; she didn’t especially like helping other people. One day she met David, a technician who was interested in a hospital career. Somehow he made her feel rather special and very grown-up.


“Mother thought she should consider teaching or library work. It was ‘safe,’ she said. People would always need teachers, and librarians were scarce.”

“Down, Mavis, Down. You are a riot. No maidenly reserve at all.”

“Cliff didn’t know she was alive, and now that she thought of it again, it was rather maddening. It could ruin a girl’s ego.”

Candy Stripers pushes the boundaries of nurse novel, given that it’s about 15-year-old Bonnie Schuyler’s summer as the eponymous candy striper—with an avowed disinclination to ever work as a nurse, much less as a candy striper after this miserable summer is over—who may flirt with a number of boys but ends the book firmly decided that she is going to see lots of boys and not just Rock Caldwell, who she’s been dating pretty steadily. Patently wholesome teenager treacle, but she’s not wrong; as nurse novels go, she’ll likely be married in half a dozen years, so she should play the field while she still has a chance.

Bonnie starts out the book as a fairly petulant spoiled brat, upset that her family is going to rent out their summer home in New Jersey this year in order to save money for her to go to college: “You know,” explains kindly dad, “college for each of you girls will cost two thousand a year and then some. Multiplied by four years apiece that’s a pretty staggering amount.” With two kids in college this year myself and the annual bills running six figures, I’m absolutely staggered that this family is going to get through it all for under $10K apiece. But rather than being grateful that her folks are picking up the tab for her education, Bonnie thinks it is just not fair! “It would be a shoreless, dateless,  horrid, dull, boring summer.” Until neighbor Nancy talks her into becoming a candy striper.

While she and the other new recruits are a little nervous--“I’ve never seen a strange man in a bathrobe before!” shrieks one—it won’t be all hard work: “When you come  here after school, cookies and milk will be served. You are girls on whom we depend, and so we shall see to it that you are well nourished,” says the head of volunteers.

Bonnie has frankly mixed feelings about it, enjoying some parts of the job but fuming about the nerve some nurses have of insisting on their high standards: “Who did Miss Winters think she was, anyway! Here they were volunteers—donating their time—and she treated them in this high and mighty manner,” after Bonnie and a couple other girls were caught fooling around with the cranks on a hospital bed and getting it stuck in a most awkward position. “There was no justice or understanding in that woman, Bonnie thought resentfully,” on another occasion when she’d gone to drop off a specimen at the lab, not come back for an hour when she stopped to flirt with handsome lab tech David, and gotten chewed out on her return. She’s not really fond of working: “‘What do we actually do?’ Bonnie asked, uneasily, hoping that it wasn’t too much. After all, she didn’t have Nancy’s passion for the work.” Again and again, even as we move into the end of the book, we are reminded that Bonnie is “one of the least devoted,” not really interested in helping people. “Why did everyone assume that she was mad about this work? She wasn’t. She was merely finishing a job she had undertaken—much too lightheartedly and impulsively. Whatever else this summer might teach her, one thing Bonnie would never do was jump into anything again!”

There are some stories of patients who triumph over adversity and Bonnie’s small role in helping them, as well as others who die, including a kid hit by a car, that actually do seem to penetrate Bonnie’s hard, selfish heart. So does that cute guy David who she chases all summer and finally maneuvers into a corner. “Oh David, I’m so in love with you,” she blurts out, and he, shocked, points out that he’s a college graduate seven years older than her. “You’re still such a baby,” he says, apparently expecting, in typical male fashion, that this is going to make her feel better. You will not be surprised that Bonnie spends pages wallowing in her grief, ducking into the linen closets to sob: “Oh, David, David! She wept brokenly.” After watching her not care about anything up until now, it’s hard to feel anything for her except a thin disgust.

True to form, when Nancy offers Bonnie a ticket to the end-of-summer capping ceremony—candy stripers with two years of service get to wear a cap—“it meant almost nothing to Bonnie at that moment,” but she manages to agree to go. “Bonnie smiled perfunctorily. No caps for her. She had almost done what she had signed up to do, and then she would forget it.” During the ceremony she isn’t even paying attention when the nursing director describes how the candy stripers have helped patients, recalling actions that Bonnie herself had taken for a burned baby. It isn’t until the candles are lit and the girls kneeling on a cushion to be capped, “like a benediction,” when “the newly capped girls were renewing their pledge of service, purity, integrity,” that Bonnie perks up. “The faces of the capped girls, in the glow of their candles, were almost ethereal. There was joy and dedication in them—an almost holy purity.” Suddenly Bonnie is rethinking it all: “This business of serving others, of being considered a responsible individual, needed. There was a peculiar satisfaction that went with all that. Until this summer she had flitted through life concerned mostly with having fun. And now, suddenly, she could no longer deny the strong pull of the hospital.” Now she’s planning on getting her own cap, and “she might decide to be a nurse, or a technician; even a doctor, maybe!”

This book was clearly written for a teen audience, so condescending and preachy is its tone. Pity the poor kids, and not just the ones Bonnie is forced to take care of. Bonnie, who is self-absorbed and sanctimonious throughout this book, in the last five pages undergoes a completely unbelievable transformation prompted, it seems, by a religious sentiment infusing the capping ceremony that for all its talk of “purity” could be confused for nuns taking their vows. When we leave Bonnie on the last pages, she has become someone completely different, dedicated to serving humanity, dating many boys but none seriously (i.e. maintaining her purity), contemplating “a new year on the way. A year of fun and school, and helping at the Medical Center—and who knew where that might lead! But for now, being a Candy Striper and just living would be enough!” In other words, what any ’50s era girl is supposed to be. I almost think I liked shallow Bonnie better, because at least she wasn’t a conformist cookie-cutter.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Nurse Templar

By Anne Weale, ©1960
Cover illustration by Jack Harman

The bustling atmosphere of a brand-new, modern residential community is the background of this charming story of a young midwife, the pleasant doctor who loved her, and the not-so-pleasant but oh! So attractive man who did not. Linden knew she was being foolish to think of Randal Craig. He was too wealthy, his family too exclusive, for her. She must put him firmly out of her mind … but that was easier said than done.


“That’s your trouble—you’re much too independent.”

“It must have been men like this, whose whole manner suggested a kind of tolerant patronage for everything feminine, that had sparked the suffragette movement, she thought impatiently.”

“She’s mad on dietetics, so don’t let her know you’re living on baked beans and sausages.”

“In my father’s time, midwives were mostly elderly dragons with tremendous biceps and a quelling manner.”

“The first thing the nurses do is warn newcomers what a difficult lot of cranks they’ve got to put with.”

“I’m convinced that a lot of women are persistently run down because they refuse to eat sensibly.”

“I hope you’re not tearing off to deliver quads, darling. We’ve come for lunch.”

“I wish someone would ask me to marry him! I’m sure the production side is much easier than the delivery service.”

“Linden wondered what lay behind her militant attitude to life. A girlhood sacrificed to invalid parents, perhaps, or merely the fact of being born a generation before cosmetics were a lady-like means of improving a plain face.”

“Mothers-in-law are much more popular when they keep at a reasonable distance.”

“I think the important thing is to take the chances in life, to gamble a little. It’s the chances one has missed that one always regrets, you know.”

Linden Templar is a 24-year-old nurse midwife, the first midwife I’ve met in a VNRN. That basically means that she’s on call a lot if someone goes into labor, and she also does prenatal clinic and postnatal home visits. She’s just accepted this job as the book opens, and is being seen off by an overly affectionate longtime male friend who unexpectedly grabs her as she’s settling into her train compartment and bestows an ardent smooch. The horror is that the man she is sharing the compartment with sees this and calls her “a youthful femme fatale,” and Linden will never forgive him, never! Unfortunately, he turns out to be Randal Craig, who serves on the hospital board of directors and whose sister-in-law Paula is one of Linden’s patients. So there are lots of run-ins with the man during which he is archly amused and she is icy and barely civil.

You are just not going to believe this, but before long Linden discovers she’s in love with the perplexing man, who continues to find ways to spend time with her while jousting with her when she’s snippy. More frustrating encounters ensue, until the end, when all is set to rights after Linden, who has stupidly told him to go away and leave her alone when she means the opposite—because to respond honestly would be chasing him—mercifully she comes to her senses: “Suddenly she knew that her whole life was balanced on this  moment. She could keep her pride and lose all chance of happiness; or she could call him back and chance that her hope was true. Somehow, now that he was walking out of her life, pride didn’t seem important any more.” Unfortunately, she is spared the burden of actually speaking her mind when he trips on a roller skate left on the stairs and she runs to help him. He sees her tears and says, “You don’t cry over someone you dislike,” and takes her in his arms. Pride and true love saved!

There’s not much to the relationship between Linden and Randal, and he’s so aloof—not unrightly so, as she is quite unfriendly to him—that it’s hard for the reader to see what’s to love there. Their interactions are pretty frustrating, and the relationship doesn’t really develop as much as it just suddenly breaks another way along with his ankle on the stairs. And it’s made fairly clear that Linden is likely to chuck to career when she’s married, because whether or not she works “would depend on my husband’s view,” and Randal has stated that “I wouldn’t want to come home and cook my own supper. An efficient staff is no substitute for a full-time wife.” Since Linden seems to appreciate her independence and strength, it’s especially disappointing that she is stupid enough to trade it in for someone else’s idea of happiness. If overall it’s a decent enough book, it’s not special enough to make it outstanding.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Peace Corps Nurse

By George Sullivan, ©1964


Right out of the gate I have to tell you that this not a nurse novel at all, and is badly advertised on other counts as well. First of all, heroine Judy Jones, an 18-year-old high school graduate, is no nurse, just an occasional volunteer at the hospital. Secondly, she never even gets to the Peace Corps, but instead is followed during her ten-week training course in Arizona. Third, though the adverts tell us “it is already being acclaimed as one of the most popular romantic novels of the season!” Judy does not even have a boyfriend. Too many similarities to the other Peace Corps Nurse, the main difference being that this book is much worse.

Judy Jones is an immature twit, probably not helped in this regard by the fact that this book was written by a man. As her plane is about to land in Arizona, “Judy greeted the arrival announcement in typically feminine fashion. She reached into her handbag on the seat beside her and took out her mirror and comb. After a few strokes through her short black hair, she smoothed on a little lipstick. Her confidence restored, she tightened her seat belt.” If confidence came in a twist-up tube, women would rule the world. But if this were the extent of Judy’s insipid nature we would be lucky; instead we are treated to her shrieks and childish behavior in class again and again, not to mention her patronizing attitude toward the people of Colombia, whom she is intending to grace with her ignorant suburban attitudes. She daydreams about wearing a serape in Colombia: “The villagers were clustered in front of their poor hovels and as she walked along she imagined them saying to one another, ‘Look at the Peace Corps lady; she dresses just like we do. She is so wonderful; we love her so.’” Excuse me while I go throw up.

She is fortunate to have a chance to patronize a small community of Indians living in Mexico as part of her training when she spends a week there. These impoverished folks need to be “taught” to drink milk, although any moron should realize the problem would stem from being too poor to own or raise an animal that produces milk, not ignorance of its benefits. Judy shows up with boxes of powdered milk and foists it on the friendly but bewildered Indians, and when one woman tries to feed the powder to her baby, Judy responds with understanding and calm: “She was so stunned she could hardly speak. ‘Wait! Wait!’ she screeched, completely forgetting that she must use Spanish. Judy’s screams so frightened the woman that she dropped the carton and the spoon and scurried to the other side of the room.” On the following page Judy “gasped in horror” as the mom tests the temperature of the now-mixed powdered milk by sucking on the bottle herself. “She thought every mother in the world knew how to test the temperature of a baby’s bottle by sprinkling a few drops of milk on the inside of the wrist. Everyone knew that—didn’t they?” Judy is going to be awesome in Colombia.

When Judy and her partner show up at the village with an armful of buckets and mops, intending to teach the women to keep a cleaner house, they are horrified that the women “greeted their plans with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm,” not that I blame them one whit. After a day trying to get Maria’s husband to carry water down from the mountain stream for them—“and then he only did it reluctantly!”—and to get the kids to stop using the mops as pretend horses and the women down on their knees and scrub floors, Judy is so upset that she “exploded” at her partner, “Don’t they realize that all we want to do is help them?” But don’t worry, by the end of her week in Mexico, Judy “was being hailed as the village heroine” because she’s taught the village women to make apple pies of fruit the community had previously allowed to drop and rot, which seems highly unrealistic when the village is described as near starving. At the send-off party the Indians throw for Judy and her partner, Judy “basked in the friendly warmth of the Indians’ affection for them,” which if true demonstrates that the Mexicans have far better souls than Judy. As a parting gift to the villagers, Judy gives the women bottle brushes and the men corn-cob pipes to “serve as models should the men care to carve some for sale.” On her way home she “absently fingered the stones of her shining bracelet,” a gift the villagers have made and given to her, not for one second considering that this might be a far more logical and lucrative economic opportunity than corn cob pipes. 

When not shrieking at spiders or ignorance borne of poverty, Judy is prancing with joy over an impending trip to the bowling alley, pouting silently, speaking petulantly, stomping off to her room, hanging her head sullenly, disrupting class when she freaks out because she can’t understand the conversation in Spanish class, and repetitively moaning, “What shall we do? What shall we do?” when confronted with a new situation, not that she’s likely to meet any as a leader in a foreign country. In short, Judy is the very model of everything one does not want in a Peace Corps volunteer. We can only be relieved in the end when Judy is not offered a place in Colombia because she needs another year to “mature,” which a serious underestimation of what it will take to transform Judy into a responsible adult. Upon hearing the news, Judy is convinced that “the Peace Corps bore a childish prejudice against her,” only proving the point. The shame is that the Peace Corps offers her a job recruiting young people to the Peace Corps, so she can infect more recruits with her patronizing attitude.

Curiously, the author of this book is held up as a champion of the Peace Corps, having written the nonfiction Story of the Peace Corps, “which has an official introduction by R. Sargent Shriver,” the first Peace Corps director. What he has written here is a horror story of racist white middle class entitlement run amok, giving us a heroine who can engender nothing but alarm in the reader that this is the kind of shallow, ignorant person the Peace Corps is recruiting. It’s not. My parents were Peace Corps volunteers in Nigeria from 19646, where they taught high school. A book that should be an homage to the dedication and hard work of honest, true community is instead a knife in the back. The best thing about this book is the cover, which is an absolute gem. And maybe the fact that continuing the pledge I made after reading White Doctor, after reading this disturbing novel, I’m doing penance by donating to the American Indian College Fund.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2017-2019 VNRN Awards

Hold your breath no longer, friends: Here we have the first VNRN awards ceremony in three years. My dedication to this blog admittedly slackened for a few years, but I made up for it last year! And so this roundup therefore includes the 13 orphaned reviews from 2017-2018 in addition to the 51 from 2019.

What you need to know: Winners are chosen from the 64 VNRNs I’ve read these past three years, which were penned by 45 different authors. The Best and Worst Authors categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (377 to date), but only authors with more than one review are included.

It's a banner ceremony for Adelaide Humphries, Adeline McElfresh, and Jane Converse, who managed to all have two books on the Worst list. They might have been joined by Arlene Hale but I only read one of her books this period.

Best Books:
1. Paper Halo, by Kate Norway (pseud. Olive Norton)
2. Wrong Doctor John, by Kate Starr
3. White Cap of Courage, by Ann Rush
5. Next Patient, Doctor Anne, by Elizabeth Gilzean
6. Nurse Willow's Ward, by Jan Tempest (pseud. Irene Mossop Swatridge)
7. Marilyn Morgan, R.N., by Rubie Saunders
8. A Nurse Named Courage, by Florence Stonebraker
9. With Love from Dr. Lucien, by Pauline Ash
10. Nurse of My Heart, by Jill Christian

Worst Books:
1. Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty by Adeline McElfresh
2. World's Fair Nurse by Dorothy Daniels
3. Reluctant Nurse by Anne Lorraine
4. Heartbreak Nurse by Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
5. Nurse Penny by Suzanne Roberts
6. A Case for Nurse Marian by Adelaide Humphries
7. The Nurse Made Headlines by Adelaide Humphries
8. Beth Lloyd, Surgical Nurse by Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano)
9. Jill Nolan, Surgical Nurse by Adeline McElfresh
10. Frightened Nurse by Arlene Hale

Best Covers:
Daredevil Nurse, illustration by Mort Engel
The Nurse Knows Best, illustration by Tom Miller
World’s Fair Nurse, illustration by Lou Marchetti

Best Quotes:
1. “The girl who was with him in the accident died a short time ago. Just as well, perhaps. She would have been much disfigured.” Nurse in Paris by Renee Shann
2. “She was the life of the party and so much fun that no one cared how fat she was or what was the color of her hair.” The Nurse Knows Best by Adelaide Humphries
3. “I’ve had better kisses from my Labrador.” Nurse Hilary’s Holiday Task by Jan Haye
4. “I’m Dick Walden. You will address me as Doctor when any patients are around and I’ll give sharp orders to show what a fine medical man I am. Otherwise, I cotton well to Dick.” World’s Fair Nurse by Dorothy Daniels
5. “Taffy was surprisingly chipper for someone whose dura had gushed blood the instant it was opened.” Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty by Adeline McElfresh
6. “What a frightful waste of all the doctor’s expensive training—if he’s drowned, I mean. We’re all going to miss him terribly.” The Case for Nurse Sheridan by Nora Sanderson
7. “She could not give her lips to someone when her heart was so troubled.” A Case for Nurse Marian by Adelaide Humphries
8. “I was thinking how much fun it would be to give you mouth to mouth resuscitation.” Marilyn Morgan, Cruise Nurse by Rubie Saunders
9. “I thought she was terribly courageous; that red hair and a red hat. It takes some doing.” Doctor Down Under by Anne Vinton
10. “Try some hot compresses on your heart. See if you can’t warm it up while I’m gone.” Believe in Miracles by Florence Stuart

Best Authors:
1. Jeanne Judson, 3.9 average (3 reviews)
2. Marguerite Mooers Marshall, 3.9 average (3 reviews)
3. Olive Norton, 3.9 average (2 reviews)
4. Faith Baldwin, 3.8 average (4 reviews)
5. William Neubauer, 3.7 average (2 reviews)
6. Jan Tempest, 3.7 average (2 reviews)
7. Maysie Grieg, 3.5 average (2 reviews)
8. Ann Rush, 3.5 average (2 reviews)
9. Elizabeth Seifert, 3.5 average (2 reviews)
10. Rubie Saunders, 3.5 average (2 reviews)
11. Joyce Dingwell, 3.5 average (3 reviews)

Worst Authors:
1. Patti Carr, 1.5 average (2 reviews)
2. Zillah Macdonald and Vivian Ahl, 1.5 average (2 reviews)
3. Jeanne Bowman, 1.6 average (10 reviews)
4. Anne Lorraine, 1.7 average (2 reviews)
5. Arlene J. Fitzgerald, 1.8 average (3 reviews)
6. Virginia K. Smiley, 1.9 average (2 reviews)
7. Suzanne Roberts, 2.0 average (6 reviews)
8. Ruth McCarthy Sears, 2.0 average (4 reviews)
9. Elizabeth Kelly, 2.0 average (2 reviews)
10. Isabel Stewart Way, 2.0 average (2 reviews)