Thursday, December 22, 2022

Marry Me Nurse

By Virginia Nielsen, ©1969 

“Funny how when a confirmed bachelor finally decides to get married, he can’t wait to find a minister!” Navy nurse Jo Mellor had to agree with her friend Pixie, but what was even funnier was Jo’s own reaction. She was in love with Lt. Jack Hurley, wasn’t she? She wanted to marry the flyer, didn’t she? Then shy couldn’t she set the date? Because it would mean giving up her career, or because—deep down—she was beginning to wonder if Jack was the right man for her after all …


“There aren’t many men who really listen to a girl. It’s irresistible.” 

“She’s a born chief nurse—all that starch!”

“’I don’t know why he makes me so nervous,’ she wailed, ‘unless it’s that he’s so wonderful!’”

“The doctor is not permitted to yell at his patient, so he yells at his nurse. This is one of the reasons he has a nurse.”

“You never knew a man until you saw him behind the wheel of a car.”

This book is made more interesting—but also more confusing—by the fact that heroine Lt. Jo Mellor, R.N. is serving in the U.S. Navy. She’s assigned to a remote clinic on Oahu, thirty miles from Waikiki, where there is also an airstrip, and there she meets—and is quickly rushed—by the sexiest man alive, pilot Lt. Jack Hurley. “No man should have a face so startingly beautiful,” she sighs, and three pages later she’s wondering in italics, “Maybe this man is the one?”  She’s not the first nurse to think this, as he’s already dated and ditched her best friend Pixie and her nurse nemesis Lisa. 

In the meantime, she has to put up with grumpy Dr. Henry Taylor, who is stuck in this godforsaken outpost lancing boils and treating rashes—and numerous plane crash victims—instead of performing surgery, his first love. “Brilliant and conceited, totally immersed in medicine,” Dr. Taylor’s “high-handed, hard-boiled manner is infuriating!” And he’s constantly needling Jo because she cares about her patients—but she’s able to get the five-year-old with Legg-Calve-Perthe’s disease to hold still for the X-ray that proves the diagnosis.

If Dr. Taylor is abrupt and snappish, flyboy Jack isn’t winning any points, either. At a picnic on the beach when it is discovered that someone needs to go across the street to the café for cups, Jack refuses the mission, saying, “My plan-of-the-day is to lie around and be waited on by an adoring slave.” I know, it’s difficult to forgive his misuse of hyphens, but referring to his new girlfriend as a slave also merits our disapproval. Then there’s the fact that he’s peeved when she saves a man who’s been bitten in the leg by a shark. “I have a thing about sharks,” he explains later, and Jo is so relieved by his selfish attitude! And when he proposes within a week of meeting Jo, he insists that she quit her job: “No wife of mine is going to nurse anybody but me.” When she reminds him that he does not outrank her, he denies it: “As your husband, I will always rank you. That’s understood.” I don’t understand it, but I’m not Navy.

She’s understandably a bit depressed on duty the next day, and when she tells Dr. Taylor why, he points out the obvious, that marriage to Jack will not work out. “You are as engrossed in nursing as Hurley is in flying,” he says. Then comes the tedious part of the VNRN classic trope, where Jo tries to convince herself that if she really loved Jack, she would be willing to give up her career, comparing herself to her friend: “Pixie would not hesitate a half second before giving up everything to go anywhere on any terms if Dr. Ernie wanted her. If he were as demanding as Jack, Pixie would love it.” Um, sure. Soon the derogatory adjectives start piling up: Jack is “a little arrogant,” telling her what to wear, and “she wondered what insecurity made him want all her attention, every minute of her time. It was a demanding sort of jealousy.”

Then the next trope is trundled onstage: There’s a terrible storm and flood, and Jack crashes his plane on landing, breaking his leg. Dr. Taylor saves the leg but can’t salvage Jack’s career, so now Jo is tied to a man she doesn’t want, because she can’t break up with him now! “He would never know that she did not love him. No love or desire of her own could be strong enough to break the bonds that Jack’s dependence imposed on her.” Does anyone else think she’s kidding herself to an alarming degree?

Of course, she’s rescued at the end—prompted not by her own honesty or self-preservation but by the realization that Lisa loves Jack more than she does, because Lisa brings Jack a putter, symbolizing his recovery, while Jo brings a cribbage board, symbolizing a prolonged stay in the hospital. Now she’s free to phone in a cancellation of her resignation and arrange a tête-à-tête with Dr. Taylor, which, curiously, is played off-stage, after we’ve closed the book—which, at 222 pages, had plenty of room for less important scenes.

The book is full of Navy jargon, never explained—OOD, BOQ, Captain’s mast (apparently some sort of investigation), personnel called Waves—which makes it bumpy for civilians. There’s also a baby mystery about syringe and penicillin pilfering, and the solution to this question is also anticlimactic, a page-filling device that does nothing for the book’s improvement; if anything, it’s mostly confusing why so many people are involved in such a stupid crime. I never appreciate a heroine falling for a man we’ve been set up to dislike and who shows few, if any, redeeming qualities, or why she would continue dating a man who turns out to be an ass. It’s a perfunctory book with little enthusiasm for anything other than the Navy, so unless you are eager for an occasional armchair glimpse of Hawaii or the Navy, there isn’t much to recommend this over-long, yet simultaneously thin, book.

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