Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Jane Arden Staff Nurse

Book 3 of 7
By Kathleen Harris, ©1957
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin

As staff nurse in a fast-paced university hospital, Jane Arden was sure her new job would leave her no time for men. She was also sure she’ never forget the man she’d loved all her life, and had lost in a tragic plane accident. But then she learned that time has a way of healing all wounds … and a new love a way of replacing the old.


“He would have wanted her to make a new life for herself, as she might have done even if the jet he had been testing on a trial flight had not burst into flames.”

“There were even more of the young men studying to be doctors. They seemed, with a few exceptions, utterly indifferent to the young women; the day was not too far distant when they would be the dictators and the nurses their humble disciples.”

“If she said she was looking for John Eastman, the blonde might jump to the wrong conclusion. A nice girl did not visit a man in his room.”

“Why wouldn’t a girl have you? Of course you’re not much to look at, and you’d probably forget half the time that you had a wife, but women are funny creatures.”

“An artist could do things the average person could not, and get away with it.”

Jane Arden rides again in this, the third of what I am apprehensive to tell you is a seven-part series, but I can assure you that this book is a lot better than the last one. Curiously, this book seems as eager to forget Jane Arden Registered Nurse as much as we are, for it rewrites a crucial detail—at the end of the last installment, Jane’s idiot boyfriend David had proposed, and she had accepted, though with not enough major reservations. David, however, conveniently got himself killed before Jane had to go to the trouble of growing an entirely new central nervous system, brain and spine chiefly, to realize that her betrothed was an ass and she should throw his miniscule diamond in the nearest bed pan. Here, however, we are told repeatedly that David “had confessed that he had found someone new to take her place in his heart,” so it’s “the hurt that had been dealt her pride” that is her main heartbreak and what makes her believe “she might never fall in love again”—not the tragic early death of her fianc√© (in fact, that particular word is never used to describe David in this book, though another F-word certainly applied in the last one).

But facts, schmacts, here we are with Jane in a new city, rooming with her nursing school chum Clarabelle Smith, who goes out of the frying pan and into the fire by calling herself Smitty. Amazingly, Jane has wangled a position as nursing supervisor on her first job out of school! The adventure, if we’re feeling generous enough to use that word, that fills these pages is the evolution of Smitty and Jane’s friendship with lab technician John Eastman. In what I suspect is supposed to be a sort of joke, Smitty has decided to get John and Jane together, while Jane is trying to push Smitty on the same man! Ha! How will this crazy affair end?

Eventually Smitty—at the same time as she realizes that she actually is in love with John—convinces Jane that John loves her. Fortunately, author Kathleen Harris has the sense to hold this unhappy turn at bay until page 103, at which point Jane immediately sets Smitty straight and says that she doesn’t love John and so could not marry him. Oh, wait, that’s not what happens at all—even though Jane feels nothing but friendship for John, she tells Smitty, her best friend, “I won’t say yes or no” until John proposes, which will give her “time in which to get used to the idea that John was in love with her.” Now Jane has a major relapse, back into that irritating circular monologue that so plagued JARN about whether she should marry someone she doesn’t love. “Was being needed the basis for an enduring relationship?” Uh, no, but Jane has never been one to recognize a dumb idea, so we are treated to lots more of the same pointless navel-gazing. “She admired John and respected him; the deep pity he aroused in her almost demanded that she give him what she could in return,” which is a pretty astonishing statement: You are obliged to marry someone you feel sorry for? Can anyone actually believe this? 

Anyway, poor Nicky Powers, wealthy playboy-turned-serious-artist-through-his-unrequited-love-for-Jane, is hanging around the page margins, phoning now and then to tell her that his art is attracting more notice. While Jane is wrestling with her moral dilemma about whether she should ruin poor John Eastman’s life by marrying him, Nicky offers what might be construed in more barbaric times—for which the 1960s appear to qualify—as a proposal: “You must realize that someday I will have to ask you to give up your career,” says the sweet-talking fool, who in JARN was kind, understanding, and supportive, so it appears that he, too, has been rewritten for book three. Back to square one goes Jane. “Maybe she was in love with him, but being still afraid of love, she could not acknowledge it. Yet how could she be in love with Nicky and consider marrying John? The only answer to this question was that she felt John needed her more than Nicky. And if she was never to love again as she had the first time, she ought to choose the man who needed her the most; out of that need, out of her giving, surely something good would come.” Marriage being apparently akin to charity work. She should just organize a bake sale and be done with it.

AGAIN!!! Jane is saved from undergoing any actual growth as a human being when all the other characters step in to do the heavy lifting for her: (1) Smitty is injured during an attempted mugging (she beats down the mugger worse than she got, and keeps her handbag to boot) and John, in the throes of his concern for Smitty, proposes; (2) Nicky takes himself off to Paris to study under an important artist for an unspecified but surely lengthy period of time; and (3) Jane’s brother Jay is severely burned while at sea for the Navy and Jane instantly must go to him, removing herself from the scene. But I am saving the very best for last! The toy prize at the bottom of this box of Cracker Jack is that Jay needs skin grafts and only Jane can provide these—because she is his identical twin!!!! Honestly, I cannot stop laughing even as I type this. Jane should take a look in Jay’s pants to verify how identical they are.

For all the fun I’ve made of this book, up until it goes to pieces at the end, it’s actually not half bad, only about a quarter bad. I am somewhat sorry that I cannot like Smitty, who is not the quintessential wise-cracking roommate but instead something of an oaf, but she’d need to be to be friends with a self-centered loser like Jane Arden. There are some scenes at the hospital that are interesting, and Jane is only irritating at the very end. So there it is. Three down, four to go. I hope there are not a lot of nurse novel series left out there, because so far they are not convincing me of their merit.

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