Saturday, March 14, 2020

Staff Nurse Sally

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

If only Staff Nurse Sally Nesbitt could have fallen in love with nice young reporter Mike Amberton, instead of carrying a torch for the surgeon Curtis Palmer, in company with all the other nurses at the General Hospital!


“I like men with a bit of ‘go,’ but I don’t let ’em break my heart. It’s made out of that new plastic stuff, you know, the kind that bends but doesn’t break, always comes back to its original shape.”

“When you’ve had enough of this career business I’ll still be waiting.”

“All the luxury in the world doesn’t make up for friends.”

“Nobody could possibly try to become romantic while occupied in disposing of coffee and crisps!”

My goodness, I’m really turning into a cantankerous old goat. It seems like every VNRN I’ve read lately is one I have actually read about five times before, and it’s making me discouraged to post yet another C-range review. This is what happens when you’ve read 383 nurse novels: The truth comes out that only about a quarter of them, and I may be overly generous in that estimate, have anything resembling an original plot. Staff Nurse Sally, alas, is not one of these treasured few.

Sally is the quintessential Marjorie Norrell heroine, which is to say beautiful, stalwart, honorable, intelligent, hard-working, dutiful, generous, and kind. We can almost see the halo glistening above her softly waving chestnut brown hair and crisp white linen cap. She’s dating reporter Mike Amberton, who will love Sally until the day he dies and has already proposed—and been turned down—four times, but she feels only a sisterly affection for the poor dope. In about every other chapter we are treated to more of Sally’s hand-wringing about why oh why can’t she love nice Mike the way he loves her? But instead she has joined the throng of nurses who are devoted to quintessential Marjorie Norrell hero Dr. Curtis Palmer, who “doesn’t appear to know women exist except in two states, nurses and patients. They just don’t exist otherwise.” This idea too is hammered home again and again, until you just cannot imagine what Sally is thinking, chasing after this automaton.

Dr. Curtis comes to be aware of Sally’s existence when she saves Francie Bodman, the only child of a wealthy family, who accidentally falls off a bridge into a river. Sally’s clear thinking and strong swimming save Francie’s life, and Francie and her family are so grateful that they press Sally into specialing Francie, who has sustained the classic VNRN spinal injury that means she needs months to learn to walk again but will be perfectly fine in the end. Dr. Curtis comes to visit his patient Francie daily, whether she needs it or not, and Sally naturally remains blind to all clues that it’s really her that Curtis wants to talk to. For her part, Francie is in love with a man who won’t marry her because she’s rich and he’s not, and it takes the wise grandfather to rescue all these young women and their bumbling beaux.

Marjorie Norrell can write a pleasant heroine (see The Marriage of Doctor Royle, Lesley Bowen M.D., Doctor Geyer’s Project), and Sally is certainly one. Ms. Norrell is sorely challenged, however, when it comes to giving us a man we can feel rightly deserves these stellar women; in fact, I can only find one really good one, and he unfortunately ended up with a dud for a heroine (in Nurse Lavinia’s Mistake). Ms. Norrell is a bit prone to the sin of introducing about five dozen different characters by name, most of which you never meet again, and this makes it difficult to keep everyone straight. She also has a tendency to blather on and on about trivial details in a way that makes you suspect she had a word count goal and that she’d come up short in the first draft. In the end this was a perfectly good book, just not one I am going to remember in a week.

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