Sunday, February 7, 2021

Obstetrical Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1972
Cover illustration by Allan Kass 

“I love you, Lon. I’m never going to stop loving you!” Nurse Marguerite Lowell longed to say it to Dr. Lon Webster. Longed to kindle a response in his heart. Working so closely with him, Marguerite found her attraction to the handsome young doctor growing stronger each day. And more hopeless, for Lon made no secret of his infatuation with the hospital’s provocative blond receptionist. When Dr. Warren Leash, Chief of Obstetrics, proposed, Marguerite felt caught in an emotional trap. Warran was a man she deeply admired—but could she love him? Should she fight for the man she wanted—or settle for a sensible marriage? The turmoil in her heart grew, until a fateful event brought Marguerite winthin reach of the love she had always dreamed of …


“‘Stay cool,’ she murmured. ‘It’s only a man.’” 

“While he was looking at Hallie, I was looking at you. You weren’t exactly green with envy. Just sort of a pale chartreuse.”

“Now I know what they do with the leftover ether at your hospital, Lonnie. They serve it up in highballs once a year.”

Dr. Lon Webster is the object of Nurse Marguerite Lowell’s deepest desires. The problem is that Dr. Lon is handsome, but “he’s a permanent adolescent, and he’s dull. Oh, and he’s righteous. A self-centered baby,” says Marguerite’s fabulous roommate, Nurse Joan McAfee. And worst of all, “he barely knew that Marguerite existed.” Instead, he’s fawning over the beautiful but dumb 19-year-old hospital receptionist, Hallie Davis. What a prince. 

Goaded by Joan, Marguerite decides to start dating Chief of Obstetrics Dr. Warren Leash, who actually is—kiss of death—a nice guy. “One look and you knew there wasn’t a shred of dishonesty in the man. She could relax with him as easily as she relaxed with Joan McAfee and there was never any need to be anyone but herself.” Of course, this means he is fatally doomed to be uninteresting to our heroine. But after Warren kisses her for the first time, he sort of proposes, and she sort of doesn’t say no, so now everyone in the hospital takes them to be engaged. “There was no turning back now,” thinks Marguerite the dope, “yet she couldn’t honestly say that she was in love with the man she was going to marry.”

For his part, Lon is about announce his engagement to Hallie at a big hospital gala, but Lon’s brother Brian turns up, and Hallie is transfixed. And why wouldn’t she be? The man is essentially dressed like a pirate, with striped pants, a transparent black shirt with a ruffled jabot, a wide tangerine sash, and a single gold hoop earring. Hallie gets Lon to postpone the announcement, and wouldn’t you know it? On the night of a big obstetrical emergency at the hospital, Lon learns that Hallie has eloped with his brother, and the loser is so distraught that he flees the hospital, leaving Warren and Marguerite to cope with all the dropping babies single-handedly. Lon then spends pages moaning and weeping, gnashing his teeth and pulling his hair—such attractive behavoir that Marguerite finally decides she’s going to break off her engagement with Warren and go back to moping over her unrequited love for Lon. “Disgusted?” snorts Joan, when Marguerite tells her of the plan. “Not because you’re being rotten to Dr. Leash, not because your conscience hurt—oh, no! But because Lonnie Webster’s little playmate ran off with his kid brother. Wow! You can go back to making a tragic figure of yourself again. Brooding around the house, staying home every night like somebody’s old-maid aunt.” I told you Joan is terrific!

Marguerite, however, in addition to be incredibly selfish and stupid, is also nearly as conceited as Dr. Lon. When she hears that her and Joan’s landlord, Rick, has started hanging around more with Joan, she thinks, “What if he’s using her companionship as an excuse to hang around the cottage because of me?” Every man must be in love with her—every man, that is, except Lon. It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that Marguerite doesn’t deserve Warren. Lon spends his days in a melodramatic misery, always with Marguerite’s sympathetic ear—and still shows no interest in her. Warren, however, lays it out straight and tells Lon that he barely knew Hallie, they were not likely to succeed as a couple, and if his infatuation with his own “sob story” continues to interfere with his work, he’s going to be fired. “Lon needs so much understanding,” Marguerite tells Warren, inexplicably defending the big baby. “Someone’s got to make him feel secure again. He’s got to feel that someone loves him.” Who might that be?

Warren again proves how much better than Lon he is by realizing that Marguerite is in love with Lon and letting her out of the engagement. But he’s going to wait for her, “because I think you’re going to wake up some day and realize that you’re infatuated with a man who hasn’t grown up yet,” he says, but frankly I wonder why Warren doesn’t realize that a woman who could fall in love with a self-centered ass like Lon should be avoided like COVID-19. Not even Marguerite can explain it: “She saw both men clearly now, as, perhaps, she had always seen them. The trouble was that the contrast between them didn’t make any difference; common sense and love seemed to have no connection with each other.” Frankly, I don’t believe that to be true. You can be attracted to people who are not right for you, but they do have some quality that attracts you. As we are given him, Lon has absolutely none.

Nine months whiz by and Hallie turns up again very pregnant, with a sob story about how Brian dumped her after forcing her to do LSD numerous times. The most interesting part of the book is that when Hallie’s baby is born—not that we didn’t see this coming—the baby has anencephaly: “sound in body and limb. But the head looked as though a scupltor had run out of clay, leaving the top portion unenclosed and incomplete. That the tiny brain was not fully formed went without saying.” Of course, anencephaly is not caused by LSD use, it’s caused by folic acid deficiency (which is why they started putting it in bread in 1998). Curiously, it’s Lon’s self-centered wailing over this baby that finally brings Marguerite to her senses, because “I wouldn’t want to lean on a man who falls apart every time the going gets rough,” she tells Lon.

In her misery after the baby’s birth—and quick death—Hallie spills a lot of beans, including that she had left Brian for a partying crowd though he had begged her to live clean for the baby, and that she thinks Lon is “a dull, boring clod!” Hallie gets news that Brian has been drowned, but Marguerite somehow misses this bulletin, and when she goes to Warren gleaming with new-found love for him, he tells her that she’s just saying that because now Lon and Hallie are free to marry, “so here’s your second-best standby, right?” Her response is to basically yell at him for several pages—no tears, no apologies, no acknowledgement that Warren is completely right to feel suspicious. Weeks go by, and finally Lon makes a pass at Marguerite, and she tells him to grow up. She instantly reports this to Warren, who remains noncommittal, and Marguerite pitches a tantrum that seems eerily familiar—perhaps picked up as a successful technique utilized to much success by her hero Lon—slams a dish, and tells Warren, “I love you! I’m sick of apologizing because it took me so long to know it,” though we have seen her apologize not once. That’s all it takes, though, and as the curtain draws closed, Marguerite and Warren are making out on the couch.

Jane Converse has an awful habit of endowing the nurse’s friend with bad looks, and then pointing them out every time the woman enters the room. Such is Joan, a straight-shooting, funny, intelligent, “incomparable gem”—in fact, it’s not hard to like her a lot more than our heroine—but she’s described as “a frizzy-haired, pie-faced, sawed-off, roly-poly clown.” As her relationship with landlord Rick develops, we cringe for poor Joan: He repeatedly insults her, such as when “he used his free hand to swat Joan on her seat. ‘You had the flame up too high, dodo! It’s bad enough you’re not a gorgeous blonde. I can’t even teach you to cook.’” At least twice on every page, Rick is insulting her in every possible way—calling her “tubby,” “stupid,” “broad on the beam”—but that’s OK, because “behind Rick’s insults and criticisms was an underlying affection,” and Joan just smiles and giggles, Marguerite thinks it’s “good to see people so happy, so at ease with each other,” and I’m developing a stomach ache. Meanwhile, of course, Marguerite is as self-centered and stupid as the man she spends most of the book moping after, and you close the book thinking that she and Lon rather deserved each other, and feeling sorry for poor Warren. Jane Converse can write reasonably well, but here the characters are mostly such annoying one-note wonders who never stop whining, so the story does not move along as crisply as some of her stories. Honestly, there’s not much here to appreciate, so put aside this dullard and pick up one of Jane’s better titles, like the classic Surf Safari Nurse. At least that book has some life to it, and a shark attack to boot!

No comments:

Post a Comment