Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Nurse Morgan’s Triumph

Book 2 of 4
By Rubie Saunders, ©1970

Don’t get involved. That was the hospital rule, but how could a beautiful, sensitive nurse keep her distance … when she is nursing a 5-year-old back to life after an accident that has killed the child’s parents? … when she watches a boy’s mother trying to keep her son an invalid? … when a dynamic young artist finds her as absorbing as the hospital mural he’s commissioned to paint? … when the handsome new chief resident comes to dinner and doesn’t want to go away?


“You can’t really get to know a girl until you’ve seen her at the kitchen sink.”

“She was certainly a good-looking girl, and intelligent, too. Maybe too intelligent. Marilyn had often wondered if that scared men off.”

“I never would have slept through the noise of you being chased around the sofa—or maybe him being chased around the sofa.”

“I just got off duty. I need to be revitalized.”

Note: This VNRN series is being reviewed out of order; see also Marilyn Morgan, R.N. (#1) and Marilyn Morgan, Cruise Nurse (#3).

Marilyn Morgan is a nurse from Harlem who, fed up with her parents, moved out of the family home on 127th Street and into an apartment near City Hospital with her best friend, fellow nurse Marcia Goldstein, in the first book of the series, Marilyn Morgan, R.N., and now, almost a year later, we pick up with the swinging bachelorettes. One of Marilyn’s boyfriends, Matt, has just moved to Chicago for a residency there, so she’s down to just Dr. Bill Burke—but never fear, Marilyn is quite the dating machine! In no time flat she’s added Dr. Hank Brown and artist James Mitchell to her collection, and is out and about with all three on a regular basis. Hank, though, is a bit problematic—a senior resident, he’s ready to marry, and three weeks after his first date with Marilyn he suggests they tie the knot. “No, she didn’t want this to happen. Hank needed a woman who was ready to be a wife and mother, but it wasn’t Marilyn. ‘I don’t think I’m ready for those things,’” she tells him. They still date, but not with the same ardor—and when Marilyn’s “old maid” sister Liz stands in for Marilyn when Marilyn has to work, well, it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall, especially after it turns out that Liz and Hank both like to go to concerts but Marilyn does not.

In the interim, there are patients to care for—Marilyn works on the pediatrics ward of one of the busiest hospitals in New York City, so there are lots of stories, including a five-year-old girl who is seriously injured in a car crash that kills her parents, a young boy who is trying to regain use of his legs after back surgery but his mother seems determined to keep him an invalid, and lots of tummy aches after ice cream and cake are served on the ward. It’s a hectic life!

But the main interest in the story is Marilyn and Marcia’s admirable social life. Their apartment is quite the swinging pad, and there are many parties to throw and attend, dates to go out on, whisky and wine to drink, and boys to kiss! But the book isn’t all fun and games—there is one subplot involving M&M’s new upstairs neighbors, Lucy Anne Hancock and her husband George. The issue is that Lucy Anne is from Mississippi, and Marilyn decides from day one that “I’m just not in the mood to meet any cute little thing from Mississippi, and I doubt if she’ll ever be in the mood to meet me,” though her fear of Lucy Anne’s racism is not overtly mentioned. She warily avoids Lucy Anne at work—because of course Lucy Anne is a nurse on Marilyn’s same ward—but the pair are thrown together caring for the orphaned little car crash victim. Their relationship is mostly formal, but Lucy Anne does call Marilyn at home one evening to tell her that the little girl has finally regained consciousness, and slowly the pair become, well, not exactly friends, but not enemies. Then Lucy Anne runs into Marilyn in the otherwise empty kitchen at one of the wild parties, George’s lethal champagne punch unlooses their tongues, and they have an honest talk about racism. “Do you know that’s the first time in my life I ever sat down and talked to a colored girl?” Lucy Anne says, recalling their first conversation in the nurse’s lounge. “The only colored people I’ve ever known before were my mother’s cleaning woman, or the next door neighbor’s cook. It’s not the same at all. You see, that morning I talked to you as a person. That’s what made it so important.” Marilyn admits that she had decided Lucy Anne couldn’t be a good nurse because she was from Mississippi, and had been determined not to like her. “That’s just how distorted these things can get,” she ends. “Oh, Marilyn, I hope someday things can get undistorted all over,” Lucy Anne sighs, and even if this conversation was not quite as enlightened as it might have been, it was a step in the right direction, for 1970 and maybe even for today—half a century later—and I sighed, too.

The book ends much as it began, with a new drought of men on the horizon for Marilyn, as Dr. Bill heads off to Chicago to accept a fellowship alongside the departed beau Matt, and Hank gets married—you’ll never guess to whom! But you can scroll on over to the review of Marilyn Morgan, Cruise Nurse and learn that our Marilyn never has to spend her nights alone for long. If this series does not exactly count as a VNRN, since the heroine never ends up engaged at the end, I like its forthright honesty about how Marilyn feels about settling down, and honestly, I am wildly jealous of M&M’s social lives, as they really have a lot of interesting friends, amusing conversations, and endless parties (though I have to say I was a little shocked that Marilyn would roll out of a party at 4:30 am and into the hospital less than three hours later for a full day on the floor, with her and the other hungover nurses joking that they hoped they would be able to give the patients the right medications, ha ha ha!). The humor in this book is quite good and fairly nonstop, especially when the boys are around, and I’m sorry to say there’s only one more book in the series, the last one: Nurse Morgan Sees It Through. If I can't really explain what triumph Nurse Morgan experienced that the book’s title might be referring to, except her victory in not getting married, I can easily state that of the four nurse novel series I’ve read, Marilyn Morgan handily beats all the others by a mile.

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