By Arlene Hale, ©1966
“I love you, Nora Fleming,” he said, not once but over and over again until Nora’s head rang with the words. But this was not what she had come to the island for. She felt she was no longer free to love another. In fact, that was why she had fled the hospital and her tragic loss, hoping to find peace in this summer camp. But now her heart was troubled by two ardent suitors. Was it merely the loneliness of the place that set her emotions afire?
“I hate eating breakfast alone. I may get married, just so I don’t have to eat alone.”
“Give me a chance to show you I’m not really as obnoxious as you think.”
“You’re a lousy nurse. You stick to too much procedure. Don’t you know that a kiss or two would do me more good than anything?”
This book is a little like having franks and beans for dinner: It’s straightforward without anything fancy on the side, neither terrible nor great, and doesn’t leave you clamoring for more. Which, honestly, is a good day for author Arlene Hale.
Nurse Nora Fleming had fallen in love with a patient named Gary—which you will remember because she is constantly moaning to herself, “Oh, Gary, Gary, Gary!”—who promptly died, hopefully not due to poor nursing care, and “there were still tears for Gary in her heart.” Even the mere site of Grandview General is too much for her broken heart, so she has come to Camp West Wind, located on an extremely large island in some unspecified lake in the Midwest, for an eight-week stint. Before she even gets to the island, however, she has two men nipping at her heels. The first one, Willie Wilson, is essentially an enthusiastic Labrador constantly frolicking for her attention and begging for dates. The other is staid Mark Baxter, a long-time camp employee highly dedicated to the boys in his care, who puffs a lot on a pipe. As fate would have it, he lost his wife and son in a car crash four years ago, so he is not overly eager for romance, either. Nevertheless, she finds her way into his arms, and the pair even go out on a few dates.
She is not completely taken by him, though, and eventually agrees to a date with Willie, but her outing with him is as lively as he is himself: Returning to the island in the camp skiff after dinner, during their five-minute ride the weather goes from gloomy to full-bore tornado, and they crash into the dock. He carries her to the shore, and as rain buckets down and the lightning cracks above their heads, they make out, and he tells her about fifty times, “I love you, Nora. I love you.” In more ways than one, “it was a stormy, heart-soaring moment,” but even their passion is no match for Mother Nature, as the shelter they are sitting under is blown away and they bolt for the camp buildings.
One of them has collapsed, unfortunately onto little Jim Taylor, but the counselors are able to lift the heavy beams and Nora pulls him to safety. In the next few days, as he recuperates in the infirmary, his mother, who is a hard-working widow, arrives for the weekend and spends a lot of time chatting with Mark. It’s not hard to see how that’s going to pan out.
Interestingly, measles strikes the island, and Willie catches them. Initially he is just annoyed at being kept in confinement, but he makes most of the opportunity by constantly pestering Nora: “If you’re immune, why can’t you kiss me good night?” But as the rest of the kids get better, the big boy becomes acutely ill. Now we have one of the more irritating VNRN tropes: That first guy she was involved with, she never really loved him. “She knew now that what she felt for Gary had not been love. It had been a combination of sympathy, pity and compassion.” But nothing seems to appeal to Nora more than a man on his deathbed, so confronted with a delirious, sweating, restless man who does not recognize her—her heart swoons! “What she felt for this man, who lay ill on the hospital bed, was deep, abiding love.” So it’s either the red spots that attracts her, or Willie’s secret, which he has just spilled to her: He is actually the extremely wealthy owner of a huge sporting goods chain in Chicago, and he comes to teach swimming lessons at this summer camp every summer as a sort of vacation.
So predictable, so largely dull. If it weren’t for the campy lines that Willie drops in his fervent if perplexing pursuit of Nora, I would have nothing amusing share with you. Author Arlene Hale was a very dedicated writer; pity that she had so little talent. It’s not atrocious, like my favorite terrible writer, Arlene Fitzgerald, but in a way, this is worse: There is just no reason at all, good or bad, to read this book. You didn’t want any more beans, either.