Tuesday, June 28, 2022

North Country Nurse

By Robert Ackworth, ©1965

Lovely young Mary Loring, her nurse’s training behind her, came home to the north country for two reasons—one, to help the people in this vast wilderness land; the other, locked in her heart, to work with young Dr. Ken Shannon who was coming back here to start his practice. But when Ken stepped off the plane, beside him was a beautiful, titian-haired bride. Now Mary wanted only to escape—from this man she could never have, from her beloved north country that would always remind her of him. It took a startling confession from Ken, and a danger-filled mercy flight with a devil-may-care pilot named Eddie Garrett, to show Mary that she didn’t have to run away—that a girl doesn’t always know the secrets of her own heart …


“It’s odd that of all the moments a person passes in a lifetime, only a few are important, isn’t it? I wish now that I had decided I wanted to be something, instead of insisting that I must belong to someone.” 

Nurse Mary Loring has returned to her home, a tiny town of 900 God-fearing souls in the “north country,” unspecified except that it’s not Idaho—Montana? Wyoming? Some state that is home to dude ranches and trappers and loggers—and few medical personnel. Mary is coming back with every intention of marrying Dr. Kenneth Shannon, who also grew up in this town. She’s been crushing on him for a decade, since she was 12 years old—they grow up fast in the mountains—when he left for medical school, and she’s seen him only a couple of times since then, so right off the bat we’re stuck with this extremely awkward and implausible albatross of a major plot device. And it’s not improved when the good doctor steps off the Cessna with—gasp!—his new bride!

Mary immediately decides she will leave town, never mind her vows to help her isolated fellow citizens, which would leave them without a nurse. But only a month after Kenneth arrives, “when people would not be likely to guess the real reason for her departure.” Does it really matter? Anita Shannon turns out to be as incredibly gorgeous as she is shy, completely unable to extend herself or make friends. Mary just hopes that “the absolutely unexpected might happen” while Anita is out taking long walks in the woods, or that “the strange woman who was Kenneth Shannon’s wife might walk out on him.” Nice! Kenneth does his best to get help for Anita—unfortunately asking his best female “friend,” Mary, to befriend Anita, “who was seen less and less as the days went by.”

Again and again, given an opportunity to be generous, mature, and kind, Mary instead puts on a deep freeze, doing little, and then only when absolutely forced, thinking that “her only hope for a future with Kenneth rested with the possibility that Anita Shannon would not make adjustments.” Anita even tries to unburden herself about her difficulties to Mary, but Mary just acts indignant at the “cold peculiar” woman and completely shuts her down, snapping, “Mrs. Shannon”—and her formality of using Anita’s married name is hostile all by itself—“I just won’t comment. What you do is entirely up to you.”

Later, when through her own hard work, Anita starts to open up and make friends with other villagers, “Mary could not help staring at Kenneth Shannon’s beautiful wife. She had seemed almost warm. It was hard to believe.” Naturally, Mary’s enormous hypocrisy is completely lost on her—and possibly on the author as well, as he makes no hints about how horrible Mary has been, and Mary never experiences any regrets about her cruel behavior.

When she’s not giving poor Anita the cold shoulder, she’s running hot and cold with three men in town. She accepts dates with forest ranger Tom Fogarty, even though she thinks he’s boring and awkward, and though she knows her best friend has a crush on him—and she’s completely taken by surprise when the friend, who feels doomed to be a spinster in this tiny town of few single men, leaves town for manlier pastures. Mary also has hot and hunky Perry Wynn, who runs her aunt’s ranch very capably, hinting gently about his feelings for her, but Mary calls him strange too, and gets all cranky anticipating she’ll have to turn down another man she doesn’t want—but is “annoyed” when he doesn’t stand in the barn door to watch her leave. Last is pilot Eddie Garrett, a frightening, arrogant man whose behavior toward Mary crosses well into harassment, making me concerned he’s a potential rapist: Though she’s told him from the outset that she’s not interested in him, he will not take no for an answer, and instead leers, “I’m going to make you get to know me,” and “I’m going to find your breaking point someday—the kind of breaking point I mean.” He grabs her at a dance and refuses to let go as she tries to pull herself away, saying, “When we dance you have to let me hold you in my arms. If I tried it any other way you’d yell blood murder from a false sense of outrage.” But when he tells her he was orphaned and raised by uncaring relatives, suddenly Mary feels guilty about “how unjustly she had leaped to conclusions about him,” and apologizes to him when he kisses her. Ew.

The rest of the book has some pretty descriptions of the north country scenery, especially if you are fond of the forests of the western states, but the medicine is laughable (the doctor, who performs appendectomies, is unable to manage a punctured lung, which only requires a chest tube; Mary brings large quantities of tongue depressors to a forest fire first-aid station) and of course Mary herself is obsessive, self-centered, and vindictive, and her choice of men in the end is unfathomable—she is, in short, not a likeable character. The writing otherwise isn’t terrible, but it’s just too difficult to get around the problems of a stupid plot device combined with a stupid heroine. I love the north country, but I could not love this nurse.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Dr. Jenny of Timberland

By Isabel Stewart Way, ©1964

In the surgical wing after the operation, young Dr. Mike took Jenny’s hand. “You were wonderful, Jenny. You saved this man’s life. You’re so young—a girl. I couldn’t believe it.” Suddenly he was holding her in his arms, kissing her with a strange ardor. Just as suddenly he let her go. “My tribute,” he said formally, “to a very able doctor.” Lovely, young Jennifer Warden was a skilled and dedicated physician, but this handsome, arrogant man had touched something deeper in her nature—her pride as a woman!


“Gossip is like a bottle of strong medicine—you’re entirely remiss if you don’t check the label before and after giving.” 

“Let’s get away from here fast—before these hospital smells seep in and anesthetize us both!”

“Don’t you laugh, Missy! It ain’t no joke for a man to find himself without his pants! Especially around females!”

“What a loo-loo of a redhead! Any chance to make out with her?”

Dr. Jennifer Warden was all set to step into a cushy job as a general practitioner when she got the call from an old friend to help out at the High Valley Lumber Corporation’s mountain hospital, caring for the employees and their families at a clinic that “runs the usual gamut of cases from obstetrics to brain surgery.” Doesn’t sound like work for a GP, but Dr. Jenny is “smart at surgery,” so she’s tapped for the job. She’s not wild about it, but the chief suggests that she’s a little too, well, flirtatious, and tells her, “You need to find yourself, Jenny. You’ve got to find some way to bring the woman and the physician into accord within you, Jenny.” She accepts the assignment, though, because she realizes that “when a good-looking guy looked at her with admiration, she felt a definite response. In fact, she liked to feel this response, liked to feel the warmth spreading through her veins, liked the tingling excitement that a man’s kiss could give.” I’m not sure how working in a logging camp is going to fix that, or if that’s even a problem. 

Not surprisingly, the plan to “integrate” her two selves gets off to a poor start when she meets company general manager and hot guy Nathan MacLaren, who immediately decides, “As soon as I can arrange the company affairs, I’m going to get sick—and have a nice long stay at our camp hospital!” He asks her to dinner and she agrees, then chastises herself: “She was banishing herself to the lumber-camp hospital just to get well rid of this frivolous, unprofessional attitude toward men!” But she decides to worry about that tomorrow, and sets off for some dinner and dancing and smooching.

Up at the hospital, though, there’s this big oaf, Dr. Mike Raditche, who scowls a lot and seems to regard women doctors rather poorly. So even before chapter two, we’re prepared for the old trope about falling for the guy you hate. And on day one, when a tree falls on Benjy Hart, Jenny acts as lead surgeon for a middle lobectomy, a surgery very nicely described, in which Mike assists—and then afterward confesses, “I was appalled at first, when Dr. Luke said you’d do it—you’re so young, somehow, and a girl! But well, it was thrilling to watch you, and a privilege to assist.” Thanks, Mike. He crowns the backhanded compliment with another one, grabbing her and kissing her, “vehemently, with fierce ardor,” and then calls it a “tribute.” Do we think he kisses Dr. Luke after an appendectomy?

She’s on her way home the next day when one nurse’s boyfriend, logger Gig, offers to drive her home but takes her to a mountaintop and kisses her without asking. She isn’t so pleased about that and jumps in his jeep and drives herself home, leaving him to walk. But in her anger—and, of course, “peculiar attraction” for Gig—she forgets about her postop patient Benjy, who’s been running a temp, because she had been “sunk in her own female ramifications of emotion!” Whatever that means. Mike and Luke have patched up the patient, and Jenny goes to the hospital to confess all, even her attraction for Gig, which seems a bit excessive. They forgive her—but Gig tells everyone in camp that Jenny was chasing him, and that Benjy almost died due to her neglect, and now everyone else is quite cool to her.

Benjy’s wife arrives in the hospital to have a baby but refuses to let Jenny see her, even though Jenny is the only doctor available, and the nurses keep mum about the patient’s incipient delivery until it’s essentially showing its little head and are forced to alert Jenny to the situation. It’s a tough delivery and the baby almost dies, but Jenny brings it around with mouth-to-mouth rescuscitation. Later Mike chews out the nurses, and Jenny feels all warm inside to have “a man championing a woman’s honor,” but then goes all frosty when he tells her that she’s a “damned good doctor! You’ve got the right to practice your profession without these personal things coming between you and your work!” Because he’s thinking of her as a doctor, not a woman. Grrrr!

The two become close partners, but it peeves her that he seems to think of her only as a friend. “This was, of course, what Dr. Devers had prescribed for her—removal to a climate where men wouldn’t notice her, except as a member of her sacred profession. But it certainly was a bland tasteless medicine.” Fortunately Nathan shows up, takes her to dinner, and proposes, but if she wants to say yes to him, she has to say goodbye to medicine. “You were created to be a woman, Jennifer, and not a sexless professional! You’re made to be a wife, a mother, the center of a home,” he tells her. “She smiled at him, feeling protected and desirable and feminine—and she liked it.” But she cuts short their date so she can bone up on a surgery she’s doing with Mike the next day. Still, she’s mad at both men—Mike who doesn’t seem interested in her as a woman, and Nathan who wants her to give up her profession. Who will she choose?

The problem with this book is that is main premise—woman vs. professional—is completely weak and illogical, not to mention sexist. It’s not clear how Jenny is supposed to “integrate” both aspects of her personality, unless it means that she’s supposed to fall in love, but she’s not supposed to like going out with or kissing men, because that would make her a “flirt.” Interestingly, though, there is a quick reference to the fact that Mike, completely immersed in his career, has sacrificed his own heart; “If a man is ever to be a good doctor, he has to go through that phase, that wholehearted absorption in his work. Of course, Mike has been in that phase for a long time,” notes Dr. Luke with dismay. Jenny is miseducated by the times—she constantly blames herself for accepting a ride home from Gig the day he assaults her, and seems sadly bought into the belief that if she has a home life (“is a woman”) then she must sacrifice her professional life, to an even greater extent that women must continue to do so even today. But she is generally a strong character who regularly stands up for herself and demonstrates a lot of confidence, and skill, in her work. Another plus is that we get to observe a lot of medicine in this book, even a couple surgeries in detail. In the end this book has enough decent features to make it worth reading, even if the main trope is stale and stupid.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Betsy Moran, R.N.

By Peggy Gaddis, ©1964

“Special duty with a millionaire…” Nurse Betsy Moran’s roommate moaned. “I’ll never know how you managed to turn the heads of the two most eligible bachelors on the staff, to say nothing of the town’s most exciting playboy.” Judy sighed deeply, “What have you got that I haven’t?” “Oh,” said Betsy, laughing at her friend. “Let’s just say it’s a gift.”


“R.N.s can be so crude at times.”

“She had to arouse the boy and keep him aroused lest he slip away into a coma.”

“You’re a very lovely girl, and any man would be delighted to wear you on his arm.”

“I’m just sick that I lost my temper and shot you!”

“Us nurses look pretty special in our uniforms. Bet the gals he trots around with when he’s up and on his own two feet break their necks getting all dolled up to devastate him. And when we nurses come along, all starchy-white and soothing-looking, the man does a nose-dive!”

“Sure you don’t want to marry me? It might be fun. And any time you got fed up, all you’d have to do would be to say so and you could have a divorce.”

Twenty-three-year-old Betsy Moran has a way with men. She scores a date with eligible Dr. Paul Elliott, and then one with widowed surgeon Dr. Stevenson—never mind that he’s twice her age! Dr. Stevenson asks her to special wealthy playboy Dr. Ken Hargroves, who has been shot in the back by one of his girlfriends, though he won’t say who it was—and when Betsy finds out, she, too, agrees to shirk professional ethics and the law, and refuses to name the culprit. She’s perfect for the nursing job, Dr. Stevenson decides, because “Ken Hargroves would go out of his mind without a pretty girl to look at. You just be somewhere Ken can look at you when he needs to.” She does her job well, and soon Ken is putty in her hands!

Outside of her dating life, Betsy’s down time is pretty well booked with lunches every Sunday with the aging Miss Emily Wingate, a wheelchair-bound, wealthy spinster near the end of her life, and Miss Emily’s nurse, usually called Maggie by Betsy, but who surprisingly turns out to be Betsy’s mother. The Miss Emily character, angelic but fading, is a Peggy Gaddis staple, and you will not be as shocked as Betsy was to learn that she’s to inherit $100,000 when Miss Emily dies. But her visits to Miss Emily are not so damaging to her social life, after all; she is nearly in a car wreck in Miss E’s driveway, and the young attorney driving the other car, Larry Donovan, insists that she go out with him. Which she does, once, even if the guy is a bit of an ass, becoming angry at Betsy when he runs into her when she’s out on a date with Dr. Paul—but she gets all frosty and refuses to say she won’t go out with Larry again when Paul asks her not to. Curiously, when Larry crashes a lunch at Miss Emily’s house to see Betsy—he tells her, “When I see something I want I go after it, with no holds barred,” forgetting that she might have something to say about it—the dowager asks Betsy not to see Larry, and she insists that she’s not at all interested in the cad, saying that he does not have “the kind of charm that would appeal to me. You don’t have to worry about him. I’ll even promise never to date him again, if it will ease your mind.”

Betsy even has a fair amount of nursing to do, between lying to the suicide victim and telling him he’s going to be fine when everyone knows he’s going to die in about ten minutes, and trying to get the unmarried forty-something career woman Doris Lathrop, hospitalized for atherosclerosis, to stop having temper tantrums, which seem to give her seizures and heart attacks. But not to worry, a man shows up out of the blue with a bouquet of flowers for Doris, so she enthusiastically agrees to give up her career, move to Florida, and marry a man she hasn’t seen in years, and didn’t look twice at when she did know him. Life’s problems solved!

Eventually one of Betsy’s many suitors proposes, on their third date, and then we have two pages of swooning and smooching. And that’s about all there is to this book. It’s not badly written, although on every other page Betsy’s eyes are widening, or she’s staring “round-eyed.” The patients’ story lines are hackneyed and certainly condescending to Doris Lathrop, who isn’t happy until she trades her career for a man. Peggy Gaddis has given us more treacly porridges to choke on in the past, and this isn’t quite as bad as some of her books, but really, that’s not much of reason to spend any time with Betsy Moran, R.N.