Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Dr. Holland’s Nurse

By Jane Converse, © 1963

What the gossips said about Dr. Holland’s nurse and his handsome young assistant wasn’t true … Kim Sargent was engaged to Bill Holland, a brilliant doctor much older than she. The lovely nurse admired and respected her fiancé, was sure she could be happy with him, make their marriage a success, and learn to love him as much as he loved her. Then one day a young doctor named Reid Coleman walked into her life. And Kim knew, heartbreakingly, too late, that he was the man she should have waited for!


“Pop’s comfort and Elaine’s education were being bought at the price of her probable spinsterhood. Hopeless, because by the time Elaine finished high school and nurse’s training, Kim would be in her thirties … a stranger to fun, an unlikely prospect for marriage.”

“A guy’s never interested in a girl unless she’s getting the rush act from at least six other fellows.”

“I adore you, Kim. You make such beautifully wifely noises.”

Here we have yet another entry for the VNRN trope of being engaged to the wrong man, plus a devastating illness to keep the heroine roped into the bad bargain as an added bonus. Nurse Kim Sargent works for Dr. Bill Holland, who is a brilliant, single-minded loner of uncertain age, but nearing his fifties—practically dead! Speaking of dead, so are Kim’s hopes for marriage because, at 26, she is approaching the cliff of spinsterhood with no hope of escape: She’s supporting the household with her job at Dr. Holland’s office, just three blocks from her house, from which she can regularly look in on her father, wheelchair-bound these several years after the car crash that killed Mrs. Sargent and every mote of joy in the house. It’s not clear why she feels she has “dismal chances for romance and marriage in the dull, provincial town” of 11,000, except that she seems convinced that she should either be at work or at home caring for her father. But here is the dubious scenario, and when Dr. Holland proposes on page 17, he points out that he can finance her father’s care and her sister’s education, and that “as Mrs. Holland, she would enjoy an undreamed-of security, an enviable position in the community.” So she agrees.

Immediately it becomes obvious even to Kim that this is a bad idea, and she realizes, “she loved Bill Holland … like a father.” Her biological father and sister go ballistic, but she will not be dissuaded: “I’ve already committed myself,” she says, because no one is ever allowed to change their minds. To prove the point that it’s a bad match, the happiest of men immediately commences to building an enormous house and excludes Kim from all planning and meetings with the architect. If that isn’t sign enough, Bill flings himself into work even more furiously than before, which means they never go out and he doesn’t bother to come around to the Sargent house to meet her family. But she gets used to “her strangely placid, semiformal engagement to marry Bill Holland. It would be a pleasant life, she decided. It would be devoid of excitement or momentous challenges, and perhaps it would lack (as it did now) the thrills young lovers encountered.” Sounds swell!

Whom Kim does encounter is Dr. Reid Coleman—“just a kid” at 27, says Dr. Holland, tactlessly forgetting that Kim is younger than that. Reid has signed up to be Bill’s partner at the clinic, and 11 pages after meeting the hot and hunky doctor, Kim realizes that “Reid Coleman brought out in her all the symptoms Pop had ascribed to love.” Virtually nothing except casual conversation precedes this announcement, so it’s a bit bewildering, though not for one second surprising; we wise VNRN readers knew poor Mr. Bill was doomed from the minute he proposed. To her credit, Kim decides she’s going to tell Bill the truth, but guess what??? Before she has a chance to drop her bomb, Bill suffers a debilitating stroke and is paralyzed and unable to speak. “If Bill survived, she would never let him know how close she had come to breaking his heart,” she decides. “Committed to a loyalty deeper than love, she would be waiting for him when and if he recovered.” We’ll see about that!

Now working with Reid every day, she quickly realizes that “this was the kind of love you experience only once in your lifetime, and when it goes unreciprocated and unrealized, you never find it again.” We’re barely halfway through the book, so we have to endure countless visits with speechless Bill, nasty but entirely true rumors in town about Reid and Kim, longing glances from Reid, and numerous tears from Kim. Eventually a widowed nurse a lot closer to Bill’s age is hired to help with Bill’s speech therapy, and exactly no one will be surprised that when Kim eventually works up the guts to tell Bill she is in love with Reid, he beats her to the punch and stutters that he’s in love with the sweet, unassuming Wilma Ellison. At book’s close, Reid and Kim go parking and decide that “older people, like Bill and Pop, like you to believe they know what’s best for you,” and that “usually they do.” Given that the entire premise of this book was about how to escape Bill’s grossly inaccurate belief that he knew what was best for Kim, it just leaves you scratching your head.

This bland, uninteresting book has little to offer in the way of interesting characters outside of the trashy, loudmouthed office secretary. The plot is trite and ridiculously predictable. The writing is not overtly bad but certainly not anything special, either. In short, if perfectly serviceable, it’s not really worth the effort.


  1. Thanks for reading all these books, so we don't have to, but we can still enjoy the best lines and eye rolls.

    This blog has now been added to my weekly Sunday treats.

  2. Thanks for your kind words! Enjoy!