Thursday, July 20, 2023

Seacliff Nurse

By Peggy O’More Blocklinger, ©1966 

What happens when a nurse is caught between true love for a noble doctor and loyalty to her own father? In Cherry Caldwell’s case, the question was doubly complicated. For Cherry’s father was a doctor, too, but a much more old-fashioned man than her beloved Dr. Robert Carter. The elder Caldwell scoffed at Carter’s Seacliff Sanitarium, where Cherry worked, as a “fantasy factory.” The situation was explosive—and Cherry could no longer postpone her decision. Which doctor would she support, and what would become of her heart?


“I wonder why studios bother with horror films when all one needs to do is turn to a news telecast. Right now, not in some distant country, but here, one sees potential terror.” 

“When has intelligence ever had anything to do with love and marriage?”

My god, you people have no idea how this job makes me suffer. Peggy O’More Blocklinger is really one of the worst VNRN authors—not even redeemed by plot twists or turns of phrase so absurd they’re hilarious, as with Arlene Fitzgerald or Zillah MacDonald. And yet slog through her (gut-droppingly voluminous) oeuvre I must, for the greater good of the VNRN universe, making it a safer place for all, and all while trying to keep my cape from getting caught in the door.

Have you forgotten how Blocklinger loves alliterative names? Well, this book will remind you, starting with heroine Cherry Caldwell, who is a nurse at Seacliff Sanitarium, which treats—and the book really uses the phrase—psychosomatic illness. She lives with her father, Dr. Carl Caldwell, who thinks the whole business is daffy (he doesn’t know the half of it), and works on the cases of Melanie Mason, who had attempted suicide after her son was killed in Vietnam, as well as the entire Dunbar clan—father Dwight and his three sons, David, Dewey, and Dan. She works on Mrs. Dunbar, too, who is a repressed type—so repressed she doesn’t even have a first nameable to only express herself through Machiavellian manipulations. There’s also a faded Gloria Swanson type who talks endlessly about her glorious career in silent films, a woman who forced her parents to buy a car which they promptly crashed, killing them, and a 55-year-old businesswoman who had lost her job in a merger and now is “too old to start again, unable to find work of any kind.” We are told that “each had a compensating illness or physical defect. How could Seacliff show them their conditions were due to indelibly drawn thought habits which affected them physically?”

Well, Cherry gets the talker to write a book—she can’t talk when she’s writing is the actual joke—and then schemes to get the woman to watch one of her own decades-old films, convinced without evidence that the woman was a terrible actress, and that upon seeing herself on the screen the woman will be cured of her egotism. She gets the businesswoman to type up the book, because typing will be so satisfying to her! And also connects the businesswoman with another patient who has been browbeaten by his mother into making terrible business decisions that sacrificed long-term success for short-term financial gain, and now the company has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy and the man to suicidal ideation. (The successful businesswoman manages to find a solution to the unsuccessful businessman’s problem; do you think she’ll be rewarded with a cut of the deal, or just a secretarial position?) In the end, Cherry has cured pretty much everyone—including more than one woman by finding them a boyfriend, because “all of the phobias and doubts of the past were erased by the arms” of a man–but mostly because “I used a verbal scalpel on their subconscious minds.”

The psychobabble is thick and inescapable. On pretty much every page we are lectured on the link between body and mind with admonishments such as, “To touch with any force this extremely sensitive spot in memory would induce another layer of protective obliteration,” and “He who argues the loudest is he whose subconscious is refuting the conscious,” and “the inner man might consider itself starving but would promptly refuse to eat while involved in an emotional scene, for self-sustaining food could be poisoned by physical reaction.” Of course, mental health is essential to well-being, but this book suggests that the most severe mental illness can be cured with a swig of Cherry’s psychological Pepto-Bismol. And one wonders why the Sanitarium bothers hiring Dr. Bob Carter at all, since he seems to have little to do with anyone’s recovery.

Cherry’s own inclination for romance is, at the outset of the book, crippled by the fact that when she was in nursing school a man whom she didn’t love left her when she refused to marry him and move across the country, and this “left a crack in her psyche, a wound that would not heal,” though this emotional devastation, if impossible to understand, is quickly dropped without further ado halfway through the book, and she ultimately winds up with a man she has paid little attention to up until the final pages. Unless you have an indelible psychic lesion that manifests physically by forcing you to read irritating books, you should skip Seacliff Nurse—but perhaps I myself should make an appointment to discuss my suppressed neuroses.

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