Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Guardian Nurse

By Joyce Dingwell, ©1970
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Burn West had engaged Frances to look after seven-year-old Jason West in the joint capacity of nurse, governess—and guard. But why should the child need to be guarded? Just what was going on?

GRADE: B+ 

REVIEW:
When Frances Peters first meets her new employer, Burn West (Burn is short for Burnley), she does not think much of him. “The mouth suggested arrogance, she thought, and the eyes were cold. … She found she really disliked this man.” Well, we savvy VNRN readers recognize this as a sure sign that he’ll be playing a starring role on the last page, but we’ll play along for now. Burn runs a very large farm in the Australian outback alongside the Murrumbidgee River in the Mirramunna district, if you are familiar with Australian geography, and having decamped the group there, Burn insists that Frances is never, ever! to leave seven-year-old Jason alone. She is also to ask no questions about Jason, Burn, or anything at all relating to the family she is joining. She valiantly agrees to this ridiculous stipulation, as absurd as it isdo we really think a seven-year-old is never going to discuss his past? (In this magical land, of course, he doesn’t, outside of telling her he has lived in Switzerland and France, which she does not believe.)

Little Jason West has suffered a severe leg fracture, but she is not told how this happened. He is “unfriendly, unco-operative, apparently without any enthusiasm,” when he meets Frances, constantly shouting, “No!” He is scarcely more affectionate with Burn, whom Frances assumes is his father—you know what they say about assuming, but of course she cant just ask! Jason needs a doctor, and wouldn’t you know it, this turns out to be Dr. Scott Weir, a long-lost sort-of ex-beau of Frances’. They’d been friendly in the nursing home where they’d both worked the previous year—but then he had abruptly transferred to another practice and never said goodbye, so she’d taken her broken heart into community nursing in the city, which was how she’d come to be hired by the Wests.

On the ranch, as Frances and Scott take up where they had left off, Burn is gradually defrosting, and Jason also coming out of his shell—figuratively and literally, as eventually the cast comes off—and he is soon running all over the ranch, or else catching up on his schooling with Frances as teacher. As Frances slowly warms up little Jason’s heart, gradually bits of the mystery are dropped into the plot. We learn that Jason is in danger of being “taken away … by his mother’s side,” Burn tells her, after one of several episodes in which Frances takes her eye off her charge for a few minutes and the pesky little blighter disappears. Frances meets a man coming out of the driveway of the ranch next door and assumes it is the owner, Trev Trent—but then Trev turns up and he’s not that man, so who is he!?! She also sees a young woman in a blue car on multiple occasions, the woman apparently watching them. Jenny, the physical therapist they engage, keeps harping on water therapy for Jason, but when Burn installs a pool, she won’t take Jason into it, or go anywhere near it herself, and it’s Frances who teaches Jason to swim. It turns out that Jenny knows the man whom Frances thought was Trev, but what is their connection? Of course, she cant possibly do the obvious—discuss these concerns with Burn—though she considers it repeatedly, and rejects repeatedly. Argh!

Of course, in true VNRN fashion, the only way out of this mess is to add a natural disaster—in this case, the routinely foreshadowed flood—and stir. Once all the mysteries and secrets are tidied away with the high water, we can close the book, but here we can let it go with at least a small, pleased smile.

Guardian Nurse is not a book for witty writing—I could shake out nothing for the Best Quotes section—but it is a good story. It unwinds slowly and gently, and most importantly, believably. We don’t like Burn much to start, but he improves in our estimation naturally, and in the end actually is a better person, unlike those books where we are presented with a pig’s ear and told he’s a rose. It’s true that the main folds in the plot are predictable and typical, but nonetheless this book is a pleasant and enjoyable, and worth reading.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Charge Nurse

By Hilary Neal 
(pseud. Olive Norton), ©1965

Nurse Kit Jessop took an immediate dislike to the male charge nurse who replaced her beloved Sister Carlin on Orthopedic Ward—but she had much to learn from Mr. Briscoe, and not least an understanding of her own heart’s desire.

GRADE: B+ 

BEST QUOTES:
“When we’re old and grey, and nobody loves us, we must live in adjoining almshouses. Very companionable. You could darn my socks and I would chop your kindling.” 

REVIEW:
Kit Jessop, just shy of her 21st birthday and in her final year of nursing training, is an effective and capable nurse rotating through the orthopedics ward with gumption and humor when she is thrown off her game by the arrival of Tom Briscoe, who is the new charge nurse—and a man!!!!—replacing Sister Carlin, who’d had an easy-going and approachable manner. Not like this new guy at all! Who changes all the usual protocols just because he feels like it and is snippy to Kit—but the real shock is that every time she complains to someone about him, they all seem to take his side. Which makes you think that Kit just has an unnatural prejudice, and since he is always speaking to her in a manner that comes across as complete disinterest, we know he shares that same unnatural prejudice.

She does have the hots for Dr. Charles Gillan, a tall, suave fellow with a reputation of being something of a cad, but she pants for him nonetheless—and finally, he asks her to dinner. On their way there, though, they are involved in a car crash in which Kit is paralyzed. But in a curious turn, it turns out her paralysis is psychosomatic, having to do with her impression of the driver of the car that hit them, though she fights the psychiatrist mightily about what it is about that driver, and it isn’t until much later we learn what that’s all about. But Kit eventually sorts it out and gets better, and in her recovery she dates her longtime friend Dr. Ian Madison. “I usually did enjoy myself with Ian. It was a very pleasant arrangement. There were no strings, and we both knew it. Ian had survived one disastrous affair and he was in what he called a resting phase. I too was lying fallow. He was quite content with what he termed our beautiful friendship, and the odd kiss cost neither of us very much. It was pleasant, and it meant nothing, except that we were both a little lost.”

There’s a big dance shortly after she goes back on duty, but the rumor is that Charles is taking someone else. She agrees to go with Tom Briscoe, who asks her only because he might as well go with someone, and there she is in the hall, so why not? But then Charles calls up with the old didn’t-you-get-my-note routine so she dumps Tom to go with Charles—and learns that the OR nurse whom he’d invited first had just sprained her ankle that afternoon. Kit’s not unaware of what’s going on, so when later it turns out that Charles has proposed to the OR nurse, she isn’t completely heartbroken, and she has Ian to cheer her up. Unfortunately, that’s not so simple, either: She finally figures out that Ian is in love with her after all. She feels really badly about it, but says she just doesn’t love him. “He rested his free hand on my shoulder for a moment, and then walked away, and I stood there thinking of all the things we had never said. It was the saddest little end to something that had never had a chance.” I was truly sad to see Ian go, because he was the most interesting of all her men.

The next declarations of love we hear emanate from the long-expected Tom Briscoe, who finally tells Kit that she looks exactly like his dead wife. “I was so afraid that it was simply because you were like Ina,” he says. “And then I found that you were nothing like her at all. You were a different person, and it was you, not a likeness, that I loved.” So it’s OK!

After some tender kisses, Kit admits that she, too, found him very much like someone from her past—her father, if you can stand it. The driver of the car that crashed into her and Charles looked like the two of them, and somehow this muddle made her paralyzed for a couple of weeks, because “as long as you can lie in the hospital you don’t have to make any decisions, and that simplifies everything,” as her uncanny shrink divined. “It was as though the you-cum-Father thing was all wrong. Unnatural. You know?” Yes, we do, and we’re still not entirely clear why she’s gone for Tom, or why she was so shocked by seeing this driver caused her to become paralyzed for weeks. But now she and Tom are engaged, and he’s planning to take back custody of his two-year-old daughter Tina, who’s been raised from birth by her mother’s sister, Anna.

Anna comes to offer Kit her congratulations and bursts into tears, believing it to be the end of her custody of Tina, but Kit is firm that the girl will remain with Anna. “If he wanted to do that to you he wouldn’t be the man I think he is,” she tells him, saying she won’t marry him if he wants to take Tina back. It’s a surprising but welcome perspective, that a child can be better off with the adopted family that raised her than with the biological parent—but at the same time, we feel if it were the mother who wanted the child back, we would not be eager to leave her where she is. “Anna’s been her mother, ever since she was born. She loves her!” she tells Tom. “You can’t do this thing to Anna, or to Tina. It’s too late. If you love her you surely want what’s best for her? You want her to be happy, don’t you, and secure? Well, she is.” Also undiscussed is how Kit feels about suddenly becoming the mother of a two-year-old, because I did have to wonder if that played a part in her attitude.

Tom has to think things over, and eventually agrees to allow Anna to adopt Tina—but it’s too late, the fact that he didn’t come up with that answer immediately dooms their relationship. “The fact that you could even imagine taking Tina away from Anna. It—it spoiled everything,” she tells him. “You were going to do a thing my father would never have contemplated.” It’s very perplexing, and when Tom tells her, “I shall never see why you did this to me,” I think most readers are on his side, especially when she drags her father into it. Weird!

Never fear, Kit ends up betrothed in the end, and if I wasn’t disappointed, I was surprised. In Charge Nurse—interestingly named for Tom Briscoe—we get the usual low-grade humor typical of author Olive Norton, here writing as Hilary Neal, that doesn’t always translate well to the Best Quotes section, such as when Kit fumes that sending Sister Carlin to work in administration “was a little like squandering a ten-shilling dose of erythromycin on one of the orderly’s pimples.” We get plenty of medical action on the orthopedics ward and in Kit’s brief stint in the ED, which is always a plus. If the paralysis bit was another peculiar aspect of the story that was never really satisfactorily explained, it’s certainly different! Ms. Norton has given us a good story here, perhaps not quite as fine as the three of her other books I’ve read (Paper Halo, Junior Pro, Factory Nurse), but Charge Nurse is definitely an interesting addition.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Office Nurse

By Rebecca Marsh (pseud. William Neubauer), ©1960

Gerry Staley, R.N. loved the sleek elegance of the society doctor’s office but her conscience told her there was more to nursing then caring for the imagined ills of the rich. Then, when diamond-in-the-rough Tom Covert demanded an answer and self-confident Dr. John Driscoll asked her to wear his ring, Gerry knew she must make the decision that would influence the rest of her life.

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“Ho, for the old days, when the blacksnake whip could be summoned to teach you your duty.”

“Aren’t we a bit formal this morning? The first sir is acceptable, of course. It establishes your respect for my skill, my position, and my bankroll. But once you have established that, Staley, you mustn’t belabor the point.”

“Well, you don’t always look forty, Boss. On day like this, with that look in your eye, you look maybe thirty-nine.”

“The man should always be allowed to think he’s doing the chasing.”

“Ah, have a good cry, Staley; it’ll clean out the ducts just fine.”

“‘Will you tell me why so many men are so idiotic?’
“‘Girls,’ he explained solemnly. ‘They do that to us, for some reason.’”

REVIEW:
Gerry Staley is a 23-year-old nurse working in the posh office of fortyish Dr. John Driscoll. It’s a well-paying job and one that she enjoys, but at book’s open she is talked into helping a young man she knew growing up in the slums who has made a stupid mistake and robbed a jewelry store. She testifies for the young man’s defense, but this means that she needs to come clean with Dr. Driscoll, who is unaware of her upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks. Upon learning this about her, he magnanimously agrees to keep her in her position after “he checked up on you all over town before he graciously agreed to retain the best nurse he’s ever had”—though you’d think the fact that he’s worked alongside her for more than a year would acquaint him to her character. This is just the start of a long line of dominoes that tumble following this one seemingly in significant act in a plot that is fairly typical of Mr. Neubauer—not that there’s anything terribly wrong with that. 

Gerry is dating ambitious and successful salesman Tom Covert, but she has a crush on Dr. Driscoll, and apparently everyone in town knows it, including Tom. Nonetheless, she continues to see Tom, even though “he wasn’t John Driscoll, of course. He had neither John’s handsomeness nor John’s suave wit. Yet with Tom, at least, she could always be herself.” Interestingly, if Gerry likes him, everyone else in town thinks Dr. Driscoll is “a greedy, money-chasing, social-climbing guy.” The objection seems to be that he doesn’t take enough pro bono shifts: “The only time your fellow goes to the slums it’s a great big show,” Tom tells Gerry. “There’s the limousine sparkling like this bauble. There you are in a spanking fresh uniform and your red-lined cape. Everyone knows you’re there doing charity work. Only it isn’t charity work, because your fellow gets his compensation in the form of publicity.”

Dr. Driscoll seems to live up to the town’s idea of him when, in an attempt to rid himself of his girlfriend Iris Preston, who he feels is getting too serious, the good doctor asks Gerry to pretend that the two are engaged, and he’ll pay her to go out with him a couple times a week. As much as Gerry would love to be with Dr. Driscoll, she is outraged by his proposal. “Did you honestly think, Dr. Driscoll, that I’d help you play such a rotten trick on any woman?” she shouts. “What a strange, pathetic man you are!” She’s summarily fired, but has a new job in five minutes in the hospital emergency department.

Meanwhile, Tom is working on a plan to buy in on a local food distribution business, which he thinks he can leverage into great profits. But he needs $25,000 to swing the deal, and the bank will not lend him the money outright. He asks Gerry to use her connection with Iris, since her dad is also the bank’s president, to influence a positive decision on the loan. So now, with more free time on her hands, Gerry meets with Iris and puts in a plug for Tom’s business. Iris, though, insists on the truth about why Gerry isn’t working for Dr. Driscoll any more—and Gerry gives it to her. “And that, Iris thought weakly, would teach her to do less snooping in the future!” Iris agrees to promote the loan with her father and rushes out the door to see Dr. Driscoll, in a scene that is played offstage.

A few days later Gerry bumps into Dr. Driscoll in the ED, and he tells her that what he really wants is to start a free clinic, and has even purchased a building in the poor section of town; all his money-grubbing ways are so he can amass a pile of money to open the clinic. When Gerry tells Tom about this, he suggests that if Dr. Driscoll really wants to raise money for the clinic, he should undertake a fund-raising campaign, so Gerry suggests he run one, since he’s such a great salesman—and since it’s not likely he’s going to get the loan from the bank. If he succeeds at fund-raising, she suggests, he’s likely to get his seed money from other sources. Sure enough, the campaign is successful, Dr. Driscoll lends Tom the money, and Gerry goes back to work for Dr. Driscoll. Suddenly, though, Gerry is saying to an old friend, “Surely you don’t imagine for an instant that I’d marry Dr. John Driscoll? I’m fond of him, sure, but as a girl might be fond of a rather nice if strange older brother. Lord, it’s always been Tom.” News to us!

Everything ties up very nicely, as you imagine it will. The writing is wonderfully amusing, and there is a terrific character in the person of the Superintendent of Nurses, who has marshalled Gerry along with tough love through her training and now career, and the two regularly meet to trade witticisms, much to our benefit. Dr. Driscoll, also, has a marvelous way with words, à la another personal favorite, author Alan Jackson, who wrote as Rosie M. Banks. “There are times, Iris, and this is one of them, when a man wants the companionship of a full-blown woman,” he says in one lovely example of his eloquence. “Even the cave man was unhappy if there wasn’t a cave woman to grunt her admiration when he’d slain some prehistoric beast. Do grunt your admiration, there’s a pet.”

Gerry is a strong, determined, intelligent, hard-working, top-notch nurse, and not one to fall swooning into anyone’s arms; in fact, she is quite hard to get, right to the bitter end. The only trouble with this story is that you will at times struggle to keep up with the intricacies of the plot, as is customary with Mr. Neubauer, but that’s certainly no reason to shun his books. Rather, it’s a treat to see a VNRN writer who actually puts in an effort to construct a story that you haven’t read fifty times before, and in Office Nurse we have a smart, witty little gem that you could actually read several times and still get something more out of it every time.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Penthouse Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1974
Cover illustration by Allan Kass 

Actually, it was a dream assignmentprivate duty nurse to wealthy Jim Orr in his lavish penthouse. But to Carrie Linden it meant only a chance to work with Ken Delaney, Jim’s doctora chance to be near the man she secretly loved. Perhaps then their friendship might grow into something more. But Ken treated her as just an old friend and a capable, dedicated nurse. But Dr. Michael Carlisle saw her differently, and Carrie, feeling so lonely, found herself accepting his persistent attentions. Soon she became more and more drawn to the suave and handsome doctor, yet the image of Ken still haunted her daydreams. Was she being a romantic fool to think that Ken would ever care for her? Or should she erase him from her life—and her heart?

GRADE: B

BEST QUOTES:
“If he had known that all nurses aren’t fat and forty, he’d have cooperated long ago, right, Jim?” 

“Believe me, darling, I love you!”

REVIEW:
Nurse Carrie Linden is back in Chicago after two years at home in Bend, Oregon, caring for her terminally ill mother, who had finally succumbed to her disease. Carrie’s first stop, after that seedy hotel where she dumped her bags, is Dr. Ken Delaney’s office, where she hopes to get a glimpse of the heartthrob she left behind. “There was no reason to believe that Ken Delaney repeated her name in his daydreams like Carrie repeated his. Every day, every night—for two interminable and lonely years.” But here she is, cooling her heels in his lavishly decorated reception area, waiting for him to show up so she can beg him to marry her—no, wait, she just wants a job in his office where she can stare adoringly at him every single day. Amazingly, he remembers her with enthusiasm and takes her to dinner—and also invites his partner, Dr. Mike Carlisle, who has a cardiac patient who needs immediate specialized care. Ken warns Carrie, though, that he and the office receptionist “dig each other,” though they’re not engaged or anything, because who wants to get married? (Women do, Carrie replies, and this seems to be news to Ken.) He also tells her, “Be forewarned, naïve little country chick from Oregon. Michael Carlisle is one guy you don’t get serious about. Got that?”

Mike proves to have been accurately drawn, looking Carrie over with appreciation at their introduction, calling her “dear,” and asking her out. He also offers her the job caring for high-flying ad man Jim Orr, who has coronary artery disease, and is about three martinis and a four-hour client meeting from dropping dead of a heart attack. It’s Carrie’s job to make sure that Jim does absolutely nothing interesting, drink absolutely nothing but water, and eat absolutely nothing that tastes good. Reluctantly she signs on—maybe she’ll get to see Ken once in a while!—but it soon proves that she is unable to keep poor Jim from behaving, and frankly she’s starting to see his point that “if I do follow doctor’s orders, I’ll be miserable. In which case I may as well be dead.”

Jim’s wife, Sheila, is an over-the-top glamour puss who flings her minks any old place, quaffs Manhattans like the pro she is, and flits around shouting, “Darling!” She has also risen up through the ranks at the advertising agency and is now doing Jim’s old job, and there’s a bit of discussion about whether that’s proper: “If she was any kind of a woman she wouldn’t be doin’ it herself. One minute fussin’ over him an’ kissin’ him, then the next minute she’s rushin’ off to get herself all gussied up to go to some big, important ‘meeting,’” grumbles the housekeeper, Mrs. Groscuth. “One thing she could do is her own cookin’ and pill-givin’, like any decent woman would.” But Sheila must have some talent for the ad job or she wouldn’t have been promoted, an obvious conclusion we readers quickly reach, and Carrie valiantly points out that it takes a lot of income to support a housekeeper, nurse, penthouse, Ferrari, and yacht, as Sheila is now single-handedly doing. The problem is that Sheila is an unsympathetic, phony character, so it’s not difficult to agree that she should be doing more for her husband—and the fact that Sheila is having an affair with her boss doesn’t win her any points.

Interestingly, the book insists that forcing a capable, intelligent person to sit around the house doing nothing all day is not a good way to “save” their life. “A man’s got pride and wants to do for himself. Makes him feel like a poor cripple,” blunders the well-intentioned Mrs. Groscuth. That same principle, however, does not seem to apply to Sheila, who is belittled because she refuses to quit her job and wait on her husband.

Carrie decides on day two that she wants to quit, but Mike convinces her to stay on a little longer, and takes her out on a few dates and makes her feel wanted and attractive. He’s aware that she’s in love with Ken, and puts little pressure on her outside of roses on a daily basis and one smooch in the car before she sets him straight, after which he is admirably hands-off. Then, while he’s out of town at a “medical conference” that’s to last 17 days, Carrie agrees to let Jim work secretly work on an ad campaign, and it turns out that the only medication he needed was a yellow legal pad and a pencil, because Jim is now a chastened man: He exercises, gives up alcohol, and devours the unsalted food Mrs. Groscuth reluctantly prepares for him.

All the various personal entanglements erupt in one Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? scene in which the characters are gathered in Jim’s living room for a party. Sheila’s affair is trotted out, and her boss slinks out the door and back to his family. Jim learns that the brilliant print advertising campaign he’s concocted is irrelevant because the company has decided to go with TV instead. Mike is revealed to be in Boston settling the alimony on his first wife, and his second wife—to whom he is still married—and ten-year-old child are still hoping he’ll return to them. Sheila fires Carrie for having caught Sheila and her boss going at it in his Lincoln in the garage. And Ken is pulling Carrie out the door when Jim drops of the major coronary he was doomed, from the first day we met him, to suffer in the penultimate chapter.

It mostly plays out as you expect it will, if you don’t have any hopes that Sheila, the most complex character in the book, will be able to keep both her husband and her job. The sudden engagement—and in this case, very hasty wedding—at the end of a VNRN of two characters who have perhaps not even kissed until the last chapter, much less spent months or years building an actual relationship, is a frustrating aspect of the genre, and author Jane Converse has a habit of giving heroines away to men they’ve secretly pined after for years, with the man paying little or no interest until the final three pages. It’s hard to feel happy for Carrie, because her years-long infatuation with a man 2,000 miles away, as Ken was for the two years prior to the story opening, seems pathetic at best and unhinged at worst. That her hopeless devotion is ultimately rewarded is a sick message to give the reader, and my only (admittedly very minor) consolation here is that Carrie never tries to talk herself into a relationship with Mike. It’s not the worst Jane Converse novel I’ve ever read, but if it’s not the basement, it’s not what you’d expect from the penthouse.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Taming of Nurse Conway

By Nora Sanderson, ©1964

Nurse Nicky Conway already hated Dr. Peter Trenton, whom she considered responsible for her mother’s death—so that when he began to interfere with her plans for marrying Geoff Hutchinson, it was altogether too much to bear!

GRADE: D+

BEST QUOTES:
“From three till six in the morning—that’s the time a night nurse feels like sitting down and writing a last will and testament.” 

“If you keep on flying into rages like this you’ll have a frightfully interesting stroke when you’re older.”

REVIEW:
Nurse Nicola Conway is easily one of the most unpleasant heroines I’ve ever met. I’m not alone in this assessment—pretty much every other character in the book chews her out at one point or another, over her irrational obsessive persecution of Dr. Peter Trenton, who was on call the night her mother, in her 40s, had a stroke and died at home with Nicky in attendance, before Dr. Trenton could arrive. It’s been more than a year since the incident, and still Nicky cannot bring herself to forgive the man and move on, or even keep a less-than-overtly-hostile expression on her face when he’s in the room. Her excuse for her hatred is that Dr. Trenton has always readily agreed that if he’d arrived sooner, Nicky’s mother would have survived—but it’s also clear that there’s some secret that exonerates the good doctor, and that the only person in New Zealand (where the book is set) who isn’t aware of this secret is Nicky herself.

Unfortunately, the pair work in the same hospital and run into each other on a daily basis—and Nicky can’t help “giving Dr. Trenton hell—you know you have, in a cruel, clever way so that he can’t hit back at you,” says her former best friend Jane, who eventually—along with all the other nurses—gives Nicky the cold shoulder for her shoddy treatment of the man, who is much beloved by the rest of the staff, the patients, and every member of the community, who all but stop him in the street and ask for his autograph. The only mystery bigger than the one surrounding Mrs. Conway’s death is why Nicky hasn’t been fired for her constant maliciousness: “If I were Dr. Trenton I’d see that you didn’t last one more day on the nursing staff,” says another ex-friend nurse. “You’re just a spoiled, self-opinionated little brat! We’d all be glad to see you go.”

So Nicky says truly horrendous things to poor Dr. Trenton on pretty much every other page, and by mid-book we readers are also wishing she’d get sacked. Even when—as you know would happen—Nicky decides, “I’ve gone and been mad enough to fall head-over-heels in love with Dr. Trenton,” which seems essentially impossible given her unswerving hatred for the man, her behavior barely budges out of the appalling zone.

A large and fairly stupid subplot involves a childhood friend of Nicky’s, Geoff Hutchinson, who has fruitlessly been hounding Nicky to marry him—and who is a victim of an accident at work that blinds him. As the weeks roll by and Geoff’s vision does not recover, Nicky idiotically decides she will marry Geoff and be his full-time nurse, for reasons that are never entirely clear. Dr. Trenton is convinced that Geoff is faking his blindness, and Nicky is equally sure he is not—giving them fodder for many more exasperating arguments—but interestingly, Geoff himself is barely seen at all in much of the book despite his starring role in the impending ruin of Nicky’s life and in all her arguments with Dr. Trenton. The question of whether Geoff is rendered a helpless baby by his blindness is viciously argued on both sides by Nicky—a hypocrisy that the book itself never acknowledges—depending on who she’s talking to: She insists that Geoff is unable to fend for himself when she’s screaming at Dr. Trenton that she must go through with the marriage, and furious that her fellow nurses are “all so determined to thrust him back into the nursery! Losing their sight doesn’t make a child of anyone!”

Equally perplexing is the huge amount of discussion about Nicky donating one of her corneas to Geoff so he would be able to see, and Dr. Trenton’s refusing to allow it—then agreeing, thinking that Geoff would never agree to Nicky’s losing an eye if he is malingering—but never in all of the talk is the surgery ever discussed with Geoff himself, which would quickly put an end to the debate and at least one source of much arguing. (The whole fake-blindness plot is not a new one, either; we’ve met it in New Surgeon at St. Lucien’s, which was also published under the Harlequin imprint though by a different author, Elizabeth Gilzean.)

Throughout this overly long book, we are subjected to a “self-righteous and critical and downright conceited,” “bad-tempered and resentful” heroine (we are told several times that Nicky is a good nurse, but we never see her do any actual nursing, and even the patients think she’s “as polite as a tiger crouching to spring”). She is frequently and rightfully called a child and told to grow up, regularly makes ridiculous decisions and stubbornly clings to them, and nastily attacks a very kind and patient doctor to the point where I think she could be prosecuted for harassment, if not creating a hostile work environment. Her assault on the doctor—and by extension the patients, nursing staff, and even us readersdrags right through to the final pages, when the foolish mystery about Mrs. Conway’s death is cleared up and we learn that if everyone had just been honest from the outset, we could have been spared 189 pages of maddening irritation. It’s impossible to believe that anyone could love Nurse Conway, and at no point is she “tamed” that I can see—rather, I pity the fool who would spend a single minute more with her than they absolutely have to. Do not, dear readers, I implore you, be such a fool—leave this book on the shelf.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Nurse Deborah

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1969

Nurse Debby Carfax had always viewed her half-cousin Margot with some wariness—Margot having always been the type of girl who couldn’t see Debby have anything without wanting to take it away from her. And now Debby had a promising new boy-friend, and Margot had announced that she was coming to Debby’s hospital to work …

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“One doesn’t run the risk of dying of ennui in our profession, does one?”

“Being afraid is the one thing to fear.”

“To get something out of anything—life, love, work, happiness, but most of all life itself—one has to put something in before being able to take something out.”

“Never underestimate yourself, child. That’s a fatal thing to do. Remember, most people accept other people at their own valuation, so don’t set too low a price on your own head.”

REVIEW:
It’s depressing to close a book of 188 pages and realize that in all that time, pretty much nothing happened between the last sentence and the first. At the same time, Nurse Deborah starts out in a rather familiar fashion—lovely Deborah Carfax, of the easy, open, and friendly manner; the great skill for nursing; and the warm and loving family, is saddled with her cousin Margot Ruthermeade, who is the exact opposite: clever and unscrupulous, “selfish in every way,” and manipulative, someone who makes a game of smashing all Debby’s friendships and is unable to form any of her own because she cares only for herself. (Although Margot clearly cares a great deal about destroying Debby’s life, this deep, lifelong hateful commitment is never explained.) This is a plotline that has been plumbed in other VNRNs (There Came a Surgeon, Hospital on Wheels), so it loses points for its unoriginality.

Debby has just been forging a friendship with shy resident Robin Peterson, but from the moment Margot shows up in town and senses the budding romance, it is mere child’s play for her to drive a wedge between the two before they’ve even become established as a real couple. So for most of the book, “Robin’s attitude indeed had changed, from one of something more than friendliness back to its original one of formal politeness.” Debby just sadly accepts the situation, saying, “We haven’t even talked enough to quarrel!” and apparently never will talk enough to set things straight.

Meanwhile, Margot chases wealthy and important doctors, somehow attracting the understanding and affection of Dr. Philip Randall, who frequently consults Debby in his stealthy pursuit of Margot, further clouding the way between Debby and Robin, who misunderstands the friendship. Debby does manage to invite Robin to the Matron’s Ball, but Robin decides to show up only when the formal dinner is about to begin, after the dance is over and Debby has spent most of the evening crying in the hallway, because having barely had any friendly words with him for the first third of the book and virtually none at all for the last two-thirds, “she loved Robin Peterson, truly loved him, with all the fire of her more than generous heart, with every fibre of her small, compact being.”

But just as the supper is starting—and Robin is dashing back out of the ball three minutes after arriving in another maddening mix-up in which he mistakes Margot for Debby kissing Dr. Randall on the dance floor—a flash fire erupts, igniting one of the senior nurses, who is conveniently saved by wallflower Debby, but apparently nothing else is touched, as the fire department is not called and the dinner proceeds with only a short delay. Debby is hauled off in a stretcher, the senior nurse is never mentioned again, and all the dancers make do with a stand-up buffet instead of a sit-down dinner. Robin and Margot both rush to Debby’s hospital bed and confess their love and sins respectively to her gauze-wrapped body. And that’s the end.

You’d think there would be more to report about the story, and more of a relationship outside of what can only be called a budding friendship before undying love and marriage proposals are declaimed—at least on one side, as Debby’s face is bandaged and she’s high on morphine, and so rendered mute. There’s not, though, so I can’t really advise you to spend the hours requisite to plowing through this dull, unsatisfying story.