Saturday, September 16, 2023

Ann Kenyon: Surgeon

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1960
Cover illustration by H. Rogers 

Ann Kenyon was young, beautiful and a brilliant surgeon. In the operating room, she was in superb command—but the outside world was different. No longer could Ann pretend to love Dr. Brill Crayden, so skillful, so cynical, so cold. To get away from Brill, Ann went to distant Ledbie Memorial Hospital, to find herself plunged into a battle that threatened her professional name and her personal reputation with vicious slander. Only a dedicated doctor would have challenged the powers blocking progress at Ledbie. Only a passionate woman would have fallen in love with a man claimed by another. Ann Kenyon was both—could she avoid paying the price in heartbreak?


“Women have no business being that damned efficient.” 

Ann Kenyon has a classic VNRN problem: Her boyfriend is kind of an ass. Also, he’s named Brill, which for me might have been an insurmountable obstacle right out of the gate, but she’s stuck by him, good lass, up until page 7. There she’s criticizing Brill’s lack of dedication and the fact that he makes callous remarks in the OR like that he thinks the pulmonary tumor they’re removing is malignant. It’s not much of a sin, because usually a doctor should have had that conversation with the patient and their colleagues well before they’re making the first incision, but apparently it’s just not done that way at Rocky Head General Hospital on Long Island. (At this hospital they also utilize three surgeons at the table and have a fourth standing by, just in case one of them is incapacitated, so they definitely have an odd way of doing things.) Then she admits she has come to “resent his claim upon her time,” and she’s looking forward to a week’s vacation alone. But before she goes, she has a wonderful date with Brill—except that he asks to spend the night in her apartment. She turns him down, but somehow this scene is also something of a major game-changer for her feelings for Brill.

Then, on her train ride, she sits next to a psychic who suggests the train is going to crash and seven people will be killed. Guess what happens next! The prophesy comes true, and the psychic is killed, but Ann gets off with just a fractured femur. This means she’s laid up in a tiny hospital in Ledbie, Indiana, for months, recovering with her leg in traction. Magically, after she’s finally able to get up and around, she’s completely mobile within a few weeks, and signs on at the hospital when she is offered a job by the chair of the hospital board of directors, Helen Ledbie, who makes all the decisions about the hospital. Helen’s stepfather, Dr. Emerson Lyle, runs a luxury practice and takes his hospital patients elsewhere, but he influences Helen to avoid putting any money into the hospital, which is slowly disintegrating into an antiquated heap. So it’s not clear why Ann has accepted the position, even if she is now chief surgeon. Unless it has something to do with Dr. Peter McDonnal, but he’s all but engaged to Helen.

The problem is the gossip that starts circulating about Ann, and that she seems to walk in on it fairly often. First it’s suggested that she’s been hired to push the senior doctor out, and then when Peter starts taking Ann to a wooded lot he’s hoping to build a house on—and kissing her—folks around town are not pleased that he’s “steppin’ out” on Helen. Then Ann joins him in his fight with the hospital board to approve funds for numerous changes, and you’d think he’d be able to convince his other girlfriend to go along with it, especially after the train crash left the tiny hospital overwhelmed and incapable of managing the influx of patients. If another tragic accident were to happen, that would surely change Helen’s mind!

The prose is salted with McElfresh’s trademark “mental ligatures,” italicized exclamations of Oh, God! and frequent mentions of occurrences behind Ann’s sternum, which makes the writing somewhat irritating, though these tics are not as overwhelming as they are in some of McElfresh’s other books. The story is fairly benign, but the cast of characters is enormous and difficult to keep straight, and some of the politics of funding the hospital seem bizarre—as do aspects of the plot like the psychic on the train. The ending is unusual because Ann has not actually landed the man, but does seem prepared to fight for him—and, let’s be honest, will likely win. In the end, you could spend your afternoon with a worse book, but I can’t tell you that you’ll be especially thrilled to have an afternoon with this one.

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