Monday, April 27, 2020

Harbor Nurse

By Arlene J . Fitzgerald, ©1964

Lovely Dawn Darwell had worked hard to perfect her skills as a nurse. But she found her job in Dr. Phil Beeman’s swank society practice strangely unsatisfying. So when struggling young Dr. Rave Canfield begged her to assist him in the remote fishing village called Moon Bay, she accepted. Even though it meant testing her skills in a make-do rural clinic, and separation from her socially prominent and wealthy fianc√© …


“I hope Dr. Canfield doesn’t turn out to be some old man whose hands are so shaky he can no longer control the scalpel—or, worse yet, some scoundrel abortionist who’s come here to hide.”

“She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump of apprehension that clogged her esophagus.”

“‘I wish things had turned out for Gus,’ she told him, remembering the man who lay dead in emergency.”

“Without warning, the moment that Dr. Canfield had held her tight, his heart throbbing beneath her own, with violent life, beside Gus Lardo’s death bed, was fresh in her mind. It was moments like that, she thought, that gave life its deeper meaning.”

“Every good nurse had to learn to control her emotions, no matter whether they stemmed from that first, sinking feeling of horror that gripped her at the sight of a hopelessly mangled body, or from the magnetism that could attract her to a member of the opposite sex.”

“Belle needed a man. It was obvious in every twitch of the exotic girl’s well rounded hips.”

Who in the world would name the hero of their novel Rave? Well, the same author who picked Key and Stag in past works (that would be Northwest Nurse and Daredevil Nurse, respectively), and who here has given us a spectacular offering truly worthy of one of our perennial Worst Authors: Previously slipping to the number five spot in 2020, with this appalling novel she is likely squeak past horror show Jeanne Bowman for second place come next year’s VNRN awards. Tune in next January to see if she lives up to the promise of this novel!

Though I’m not sure it’s worth the time, I can give you a quick rundown of the plot’s lowlights: Nurse Dawn Darwell is engaged to the quintessential society MD, Dr. Phil Beeman of San Francisco. We are told that “she was in love with the guy—after a fashion,” which means, if appearances are anything, not at all. “She felt hardly anything at all for Phil. He was just there, someone to be taken for granted, like the office furniture.” When she drives the office lab technician back to her home town on the harbor to recover from mono, she meets the local doc, Rave Canfield (whom Phil amusingly refers to as Rage Cantle), and is instantly smitten with his “indefinable magnetism that few men possessed.” So impressed is she that her first glance into the depths of his blue eyes “caused the muscles over her solar plexus to contract suddenly in a little spasm of sheer animal delight.” Her frank lust only grows from there: “She was overwhelmingly aware of the long, hard, alive length of his big body, warm against hers,” and “she watched him go, aware of the powerful flexing of muscle along the length of his lean thighs.” Hubba, hubba! It takes her all of ten minutes after she returns to the posh office of Dr. Beeman before she gives notice. Though she’s had not one nice thing to say about Phil, on her way out the door of his clinic, she thinks “that it wasn’t very wise of her to risk losing Phil like this.” Still she walks out, saying, “I’ll drop you a card. Until then, goodbye, Phil.”

Back she goes to Moon Bay to work for Dr. Rave (and send Phil perfumed letters, probably not mentioning her major crush). “It made no difference to her what romantic attachments Dr. Canfield might have. She hadn’t come to this small fishing won to land herself a handsome husband.” I’m not sure who she thinks she’s fooling, but it’s not us! Life in Moon Bay is so much more thrilling than Dr. Beeman’s office: On her first day she was “glad for the urgency that filled her every moment at the clinic,” such as when she weighed a pregnant woman and then set out equipment Dr. Rave would need to take out some wire skin sutures (wire skin sutures?).

But we needn’t quibble, because soon there are adventures galore, such as the two babies that are born (one of which Dawn delivers solo, the other she brings back to life while Rave saves the mother from hemorrhaging to death), the local vagrant who has treated his brewing appendicitis with a packet of powder he’s found in the gullet of a dead fish on the beach and overdoses on cocaine (I kid you not!), a woman dying of cancer who is helped into the grim reaper’s arms with more cocaine by her wannabe son-in-law, several daring sea rescues by Dawn and Rave during major storms, and we haven’t even started on Rave’s plans to get the government to build a seafood research center in town, which will surely boost its economic prospects. Seafood research, you ask? Apparently it’s super important, because Russia and China have already gotten a jump on the U.S. with their own seafood research centers, but with the resources of Moon Bay, soon America will be great again! And as far as Dawn’s personal ambitions go, it’s not long before Dr. Rave pulls her into his arms and kisses her, literally a second after she’s registered that the patient on the table before them has died. “His hard, square mouth captured her red lips in a kiss that sent her heart racing, driving out the death chill that had infiltrated the small room.” What a romantic fool, that Rave Canfield!

Although my research has turned up nothing, I cannot believe that Arlene J. Fitzgerald is not the pen name of Adelaide Rowe, who also infuriated as Adelaide Humphries and especially as Kathleen Harris. All the hallmarks are there, and uncork the Pepto Bismol, because I’m going to recite them for you: First we have our heroine’s serious thoracic disease to contend with, as she suffers from “a little twinge of pride trembling behind her sternum,” “a feeling of urgency and excitement throbbed through her thoracic mediastinum,” “impatient throbbing behind her sternum,” “sharp pain sliced suddenly behind her sternum,” “a jagged little stab of fear penetrated behind her sternum,” and “a strange commotion in her mediastinal region,” to name just a few of Dawn’s alarming symptoms. I was also having a strange commotion, but it was located more in my epigastric region. (See, if you dare, Nurse Nolan’s Private Duty, written as Kathleen Harris.)

We are reminded at least 13 times that Dawn has violet eyes, and pretty much every part of Dawn—including hips, skirts, chin, and nose—is described as pert, God help us. Dawn is lucky to possess a magical quality called “firm, nurse’s discipline,” which allows her to do many, many things, including ignore her pounding heart (thanks, Dr. Rave), force down the feeling of horror that comes over her while rescuing a fisherman out of the ocean, and zipline out to a fishing boat during a hurricane to help amputate the leg of a fisherman who was attacked by a shark. (I’ll wait until you stop laughing.) If they could bottle firm nurse’s discipline, the world’s problems would be solved.

Her FND also bestows her with the ability to manage her feelings like a surgeon: she cauterizes, snips, slices through, and sears off negative feelings with “quick, mental cautery” or “a firm, mental scalpel” on at least eight occasions, not to mention the “firm mental clamps” (Dawn is big into firmness) she applies to her thoughts on at least three more. Author Fitzgerald does not limit surgery to emotions but also gives us pages of snip-by-snip description of several surgeries (not the circumcision, however), but for all their detail they’re not very accurate, at least by today’s standards, such as when Dawn enumerates a patient’s symptoms in great clinical detail, decides that the patient has “cocainism,” and treats him with “gentle slapping.” Hard to believe, but this treatment proves not very effective.

As hot as Dr. Rave is, Dawn is apparently quite a bombshell herself, and we are treated to her “slim, rounded body” “clad only in panties and bra” as she scrubs up for surgery—not sure how exactly she’s going to get her scrubs on now that her hands are clean, but we’ll let sterile technique slide for the sake of a cheap voyeuristic thrill. Some of these mentions of her body are laughably incongruous, such as when she runs up the beach, “savoring the salty breeze that grazed her full, red mouth.” (We met similar silly lust for both hero and heroine in Young Nurse Rayburn.)

The upside of this book is that it gives you so many laugh-out-loud moments (much to the increasing irritation of your teenaged son, tragically kicked out of college and imprisoned in the house by coronavirus). The prose is over the top, such as in: “The gale-churned expanse of water beyond the tiny town writhed in a morass of undisciplined, white-capped waves that pounded the long dock, and the stretch of debris-littered beach.” The pity is that this passage only hints at Ms. Fitzgerald’s deep passion for commas, which are liberally sprinkled across every page like glitter after a princess-themed birthday party. There are glimmers of a good plot here, but the writing is so lazy and repetitive that it completely crowds out what little of genuine interest that could be found here. Though this book nears so-bad-it’s-good status, you’ll need all your firm nurse’s discipline to put a firm mental clamp on the strange commotion in your gut if you decide to wade into this harbor. 

1 comment:

  1. Except it was written in 1964. I think it would require modern super-computing power to come up with “She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump of apprehension that clogged her esophagus.” I mean, that there is real poetry.