Monday, February 3, 2020

Nell Shannon, R.N.

By Ann Rush
(pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham), ©1963

Eleanor Shannon loved nursing and the world that went with it: the crisp white uniforms, the sparkling cleanliness of the hospital, the respect and admiration she earned. But one day the shrill ring of the phone brought her back to face the life she had worked five years to forget: the life in her parents’ home in Fenton, on the wrong side of the tracks. And Nell had to face up to the truth—about Fenton, about her family, about the young redheaded doctor she resented so bitterly, and most of all about herself. If she went back to the old life—would she be forever trapped?


“We may do fantastic things and considering they include crime and sudden death I guess I shouldn’t say it, but I have fun.”

Eleanor Shannon has managed to escape her huge slum-dwelling family of nine by obtaining a nurse’s license and fleeing to the city, to create a lovely little apartment with her own bathroom, charming curtains, and a living room without a bed in it. Part of her break includes changing her name from the Nellie she’d gone by when she’d lived in the Slash—the cute name bestowed upon the town slum she hails from—and going by Eleanor. But she’s been sending checks home to help support the remaining three kids, unlike the other three sibs who have moved out—some leaving no forwarding address—so when mom is stricken with hepatitis, and her drunken father is certainly not going to step up, she puts her furniture in storage and heads home.

Getting off the train, she runs smack into Nurse Novel Trope #5, or rather Dr. Tim Burrage, of the elite family that owns the chemical plant, Slash the slum, and the town in general, when she disembarks from the bus. True to trope, she despises him instantly. “She was remembering Tim Burrage now. He carried a head of flaming red hair as if the were the Prince of Wales. He always looked to be as snobbish as the rest of the Burrages.” Well, we’ll see about that.

Arriving home, she finds the three teenaged kids still living at home shirking school and contributing nothing to the household, which is a slovenly mess. Needless to say, just her arrival imparts a complete transformation in of all three, who immediately start attending school regularly and get jobs (well, the boys, anyway) and cleaning house (well, the girl, anyway). Dad, the well-meaning alcoholic who deeply loves his wife but whose dreams have been crushed by poverty and limited opportunity, goes on the wagon, and the birds start chirping and spring dawns anew.

After wreaking miracles at home, Eleanor gets a job at the hospital and of course has lots of interactions with that snobbish doctor, who as time passes reveals himself as an honest, compassionate, down-to-earth person who, if somewhat sheltered, tries to do well. When she is forced into a date with him—they both have an interest in seeing this new club of dubious reputation where all the kids, including  both of their younger sisters, hang out—he drops her at home and, horrified to find what the homes are like in the part of town his family owns, orders a complete overhaul of the district that begins at 6:00 am the next day, much to the consternation of the residents, who are skeptical about this new-fangled indoor plumbing, electricity, and paint. “Only way I have of pleasuring myself now is meeting somebody at the well when I go for water. Now, looks like I’ll just sit in a rocker and stare at the wall, seeing I’ll have water right in the house,” grumbles one, while another grouses, “It just don’t seem right, going to the bathroom in a place where you got to live.” Darned ungrateful slobs.

Before too long, Eleanor and Tim are involved in a weird sort of mystery in which someone who appears poised to squeal about the drug ring they suspect is being run out of the night club is stabbed, and the perpetrator is immediately murdered. Caring for the almost-deceased narc, Eleanor wades right into another classic trope in which she walks into the patient’s room as someone is about to finish the job on him. Also not entirely without precedent, having saved the day, she immediately kicks her bravery out from under herself and faints.

Waking up, there’s little to do except get Ma home to the slum, newly renovated with furniture given to her by Dr. Tim—which she inexplicably goes ballistic over—and reunite the family, the three lost lambs turning up to join the three still at home plus Eleanor for a rousing homecoming, making the reader scratch her head as to why the family that was mostly disintegrated at the start of the book should suddenly be the model of harmony. All that remains is for Tim to turn up and propose, as well as offer tuition to Julliard and other colleges for the high school kids, for us to close the book.

It’s a fairly perfunctory story, with characters who pop in and out without resolution—Eleanor’s young sister, for example, Eleanor’s main concern of at the start of the book, is completely ignored in the second half, and the struggles of dad the alcoholic are neatly brushed under the carpet. Numerous loose illogical ends dangle as well—why was the guy who stabbed the narc murdered by the man who hired him to do the job? How is Eleanor going to reconcile her hatred for her hometown and family?—so this sloppy story feels unsatisfying in the end. Even what to call the heroine—is she Nell, Nellie, or Eleanor?—fluctuates from minute to minute. Amusing in some parts for its dated atmosphere, Nell Shannon does not have enough to make for a good book.

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