Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Love Gift

By Frances J.S. Eden (pseud. Frances Chimenti), ©1970 

So young to be widowed, pretty Andrea Courbet sought refuge and solace as the nurse to Peter Moffatt’s motherless children. But in that strained home, the shadow of Peter’s lost wife seemed always present, so that after a while even Andrea came to question her own identity. Thus when Dr. Matt Anderson entered the scene as family pediatrician and contested her hand against Peter’s romantic pleas, he offered her a new out. But was his love gift just a trap into exactly the sort of romantic dilemma she had hoped to avoid?


“They come home from bossin’ and think they have t’keep on bossin’!” 

“Men should be marinated like meat: to make them tender!”

“The only way I can get you to hold hands is to have you take my pulse.”

Nurse Andrea Courbet is a “baby nurse,” accompanying new mothers home for a few weeks or months until they settle into the routine. But this time, the mother of the new baby has died in childbirth, and Andrea’s coming home with father Peter Moffett to care for baby Donel as well as the three older children, Lanier, Geordie, and Joyce. She and the children take to each other immediately, they soon calling her “Courbie” and she becoming a major rock in the house, giving helpful advice to Peter about how to be a better father. She is worried about staying too long, though, because she doesn’t want everyone to become too emotionally involved, making her inevitable departure unbearable. 

The Moffett family pediatrician, Dr. Matt Anderson, has always been a frequent guest at the house, and now that Andrea is there he sees no reason to stop, though she is not impressed with his overly informal ways; he patronizes her during the baby’s first appointment with him and telling her, “Didey on, Nursie,” and asking her to come sit next to him. “I’m dideying the baby, Dockie,” she quips in response, and when he admires her hair, she says, “I came to have Donny examined, not me.” But as usual, the initially irritating doctor grows on the nurse, and soon they’re dating. The rub is that two years ago her husband—she was married at age 20—was killed in a car crash and the baby she was carrying was stillborn. So she’s just not ready to love again.

Except the children, whom she does whole-heartedly—and when Peter suggests that they get married because they “are fond of each other and we certainly are equally concerned for the children. It would settle all this anxiety about your having to leave. It would be the best thing for the children if you stayed on as my wife.” The incurable romantic! Andrea, not sure she can ever love again—which is the same way Peter feels after his wife’s death—agrees, and tries to find affection in their mostly platonic relationship.

Matt, of course, is heartbroken, and takes no pains to hide it, “his tone was always light and friendly with Peter and Andrea, but his eyes were bleak with unhappiness.” Then Andrea overhears Peter confirming to his sister that his wife “can never be replaced in my heart,” and she finally realizes that though the attraction of remaining with the children is enormous, she asks herself, “was she willing to settle for less to have all these things?” She tells Peter, “I want more—I need more than you can give me,” and declines his ring. But now Matt is devoting himself to Peter’s sister …

The worst thing about this book is the title, which makes it embarrassing when a man you don’t know well asks what you are reading. Nothing impressive, that’s for damn sure! And though the plot of this book is obvious and without bumps, I have to say that the family in this book is incredibly warm and appealing. I really understood the draw for Andrea to want to remain a part of a world that included these children and their grandmother—I wouldn’t mind it myself. This is the first book I have read by author Frances Eden, but if her other books are as gentle and sweet—even if they are not stellar—honestly, you could do a lot worse.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Hope Farrell Crusading Nurse

By Suzanne Roberts, ©1968 

Two nurses had quit the job at Doc Brady’s Appalachian clinic the year before, quit in what Hope’s supervisor back at Community Hospital described as “anger, disgust, and plain sorrow.” Hope didn’t understand … then. She was beginning to understand now. There was so much to be done … and so much that could be done … a new clinic, a library, a school … to fight the misery on the mountain. And Hope was ready to lead that fight, but she was blocked first by the mountain people who seemed to have no desire to change anything; then by Doc Brady who long ago gave up trying to make them change; and finally by his sone, young Dr. Steve, whom she loved but who gave her a cruel choice: stay on the mountain and break her heart trying to help those who wouldn’t help themselves, or give up and come away with him …


“How can he tell me how pretty my eyes are in one breath and then start talking about thrombophlebitis?” 

“A lot of clear thoughts can come to a man while he’s eating squirrel stew.”

Nurse Hope Farrell has just graduated from nursing school, and look out, world! “She came from a family of crusaders, and all that remained was to choose a geographical area where a nurse was needed, and where changes and progress could be made through hard work and dedication.”  She’s really looking forward to making her mark on the simple folk of rural Kentucky, but in the usual trend, when she is waiting in the tiny town café with a kindly proprietor who has bad teeth, a man shows up late and treats Hope with rudeness and scorn, not even helping her with her bags! He drives dangerously, and he needs a shave. “What if he’s feeble-minded or dangerous?” Hope worries, but guess who he turns out to be? Her new boss, Dr. Dan Brady, who has no interest in being welcoming or even kind to his idealistic, unrealistic nurse. “What’d you expect, some white-coated M.D. with Hero written all over him?” Well, he’s certainly not that: He exhorts Hope not to waste her time trying to improve everyone, telling her, “you can’t get that big, beautiful dream of something better by giving them free vitamins.” 

Well, Hope doesn’t agree, and on her first day, assisting at the birth of a woman’s 11th baby in one of the mountain shacks, she tells the gathered crowd that the mother and baby should be in a hospital, not in their home, because “the baby could still get sick in there in that cabin. If we had a new hospital, when our women had babies things would be 50 percent safer!” She doesn’t understand why everyone gives her the cold shoulder after that. No doubt it’s because they are skeptical about how she arrived at her statistics.

Nonetheless, “Each morning she was filled with lovely ideas about how to stimulate people into wanting to do something about a new clinic, a library, more jobs, better food, better living conditions—” but that mean old Dr. Brady is “the biggest stumbling block” to her dreams. She won’t give up, though! When the illiteracy rate indeed turns out to be quite high, she decides to build a library, and once she’s done with that, she’s going to build a new clinic—though it’s not clear what’s wrong with the old one, apart from the fact that Hope decries its peeling paint and old curtains.  

Dan’s son Steve, a doctor on summer break from a fancy Boston hospital, shows up, and Hope is immediately convinced that Dr. Steve is going to “spark them to get going and change their whole way of living and thinking!” But he’s a chip off the old block, telling Hope, “Don’t try to sit in some ivory tower and dream up foolish dreams about a beautiful new clinic and a library and all these people suddenly wanting polio shots for their kids and lots of good books to read, because it isn’t going to work out that way.” Steve grumbles that “nobody wants to learn; nobody gives a darn about what’s happening in the outside world. They don’t even bother to take a newspaper so they can find out!” If they can’t afford food and can’t read, why should they buy a newspaper? Though she fights endlessly with Drs. Dan and Steve, getting exactly nowhere, she suddenly decides “she had fallen hopelessly in love with this angry, arrogant young man,” as you knew she would.

Then she enlists the help of some local teens to start building a library—though how a room full of books is going to improve the illiteracy rate remains unclear; wouldn’t a local teacher be more helpful?—and the kids show up at her house with scavenged bricks and lumber, and spend hours discussing the plan. But then the ringleader of the kids, Darrell, tells Hope that the kids aren’t going to help her anymore because their parents think it’s weird that they’re hanging out at the house of this single woman who goes driving alone. “No girl ever goes out by herself on this mountain,” he tells her—and that’s not all. “You’re tellin’ them that everything they’ve done for over a hundred years is all wrong. It’s like—well, like folks have lived and died and raised families and got by all right, and then somebody like you—a young girl from somewhere else, comes up here and stays a few weeks and tells them they’re nothin’.” He has a point.

Hope, finally giving up, decides to quit her job—but on her way out of town, the alarm goes out that a young girl has gotten trapped in the old abandoned mine and that Dr. Dan has gone in after her—and Steve follows after both of them, because doctors are super expendable, and all these out-of-work miners couldn’t possibly be of assistance. Standing outside and nibbling her nails, Hope decides that “even if this mountain and its people were going to give her a hard time, try to force her out, try to ridicule and hurt her, still—she belonged there and she was staying.” It’s not hard to figure out that Dr. Dan is not coming out, and Hope decides he went into the mine because “he felt so guilty at not having changed things.” She decrees, “Doctor Brady had died in a desperate attempt to make up to these people for what he had stopped trying to give them, hope and courage and a kind of inner strength to forge ahead and make their lives better and more meaningful. He had known he had failed them, and in that last moment he had wanted to do something good for them. That was why he had crawled into the mine to save little Candy.” Furthermore, she suddenly decides that “she’d come to love” and “given all of herself to Appalachia and its people.” Hope has seriously lost all touch with reality.

And now, suddenly, the people are forcing milk on their children and buying ice for the ice box even if it’s expensive and they don’t have any money and half of the ice has melted by the time they get it home and most of them don’t have cars to get to town to buy it. But “that’s what Doc Brady always wanted us to do,” And now they’ve decided to do everything he wanted! Hooray!

This book is simplistic and stupid, basically declaring that no one need be poor if they don’t want to be, “if we only had the gumption.” Where the jobs and money—much less the teachers—are going to come from is breezily ignored. None of the characters are admirable; the two doctors’ angry relentless pessimism is no more believable than Hope’s angry relentless optimism. The worst stubborn ignorance in the book is Hope’s, and it’s difficult to watch her win in the end when she does not deserve it; she has not grown or adapted or attempted to understand or even befriend anyone on the mountain. The Crusades were religious wars in which Christians invaded and conquered other countries that didn’t agree with their beliefs, and Hope has the same take-no-prisoners attitude in her own crusade. It wasn’t pretty then, and it’s not pretty now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

New Yorker Nurse

By Dorothy Fletcher, ©1969 

When a pretty, single girl is taken to a bachelor’s luxurious, isolated seashore house, wined and dined by the charming young man she believes is the “Mr. Right” she’s been waiting for, what does she do when he becomes amorous? If the girl is Dinah Mason, a tawny-eyed nurse, vivacious and sophisticated at 25, and if her Mr. Right is Dick Claiborne, a serious lawyer by day and a jet-setter by night … there’s bound to be some swinging surprises in the age-old art of loving.




“He eyed her long and shapely legs and winced when he came to the stout, serviceable nurse’s shoes. A girl with legs like that shouldn’t have to wear those clumpy shoes, damn it. When were they going to do something about the shoes? Pucci was dolling up the airline hostesses. Why didn’t some designer give the nurses a break?”


“You look like a strawberry. Good enough to eat.”


“It seems to me that people are getting more and more inarticulate with each succeeding generation.”


“On a day like this it was difficult to believe that the air was poisoned with monoxides.”


“Home is really someone you love more than anything else in the world.”


“Nurses always have thick ankles and things like that. They have severe expressions. And almost invariably, a suggestion of moustache on their upper lips.”



Dinah Mason is our eponymous New York City-based visiting nurse who is between jobs when the book opens, and is spending an afternoon visiting her former patient Victoria Blanding, a charming and tough old gal whom Dinah had nursed through a broken hip. Victoria remarks to Dinah that had she come later she could have met her lovely nephew, who is engaged to be married to “a quite dreary girl. Jet-set type of young woman, the kind I can’t stand. Pity you couldn’t have met him first.” It is a pity, because she’s going to be 26, which means she’s about doomed to a long, lonely, spinster existence, since she just can’t bring herself to marry her longtime beau, Mike Corby. “The hoped-for spark was missing; she didn’t tingle, not the way she should,” she thinks.


After leaving Miss Blanding’s Park Avenue apartment, she heads to 57th Street, then to York, winding up in a park off Sutton Place near the Queensboro Bridge. There she meets a shabby older gentleman reading Baudelaire in the original French. Down on his luck, she assumes from his ratty clothes, and so chats him up to lift his spirits for a bit; “People like that make my heart ache. Isn’t it terrible what happens to some people?” Then she’s off for a date with Mike, during which she again says no to his proposals for marriage and sex; this book is one of the most open about the possibility of the heroine having sex with her boyfriends. She doesn’t, though, of course: “It was always a good way to work up a head of steam, pondering the role of the single girl in society. If she heard a man say just once more, What’s the matter with you … you frigid or something? she would scream. Didn’t they ever wonder if there was something wrong with their own appeal? The male ego, she told herself, was stupendous.”


Dinah’s next job is caring for Margaret Paley, a lonely 51-year-old widow who attempts suicide with a bottle of sleeping pills. “I have no shame about what I did, Dinah. Only despair that it was abortive. A person has a right to do with her own life what she wants to,” Mrs. Paley says—a vastly different attitude about suicide than what the typical VNRN offers, which is deep shame for the patient and a hasty sweep under the rug of the offensive action. Once Mrs. Paley is out of the hospital, Dinah accompanies her to her apartment on 56th Street, coincidentally at York Street and Sutton Place. She sees the old man in the park and dashes in to say hello to him before dashing off again—but leaves Mrs. Paley’s suitcase behind. Fortunately, the old man’s son, Dick Claiborne, is also loitering in the park nearby, and has been scoping out the lovely nurse, and he rushes after her with the case, and then offers to drive her to collect Mrs. Paley and chauffer her home.


Dinah, attempting to jolly Mrs. Paley out of her deep depression, drags her out on walks in the city, finally taking her to the Sutton Place park. Sadly, the park only reminds Mrs. Paley of her deceased husband, which makes Dinah sigh, “You can’t win. Everything in the world must remind you of the person you had loved and lost.” Then she spots the older gentleman and brings Mrs. Paley over to share the bench and a little conversation. Soon he is describing the boats and canals of Venice—and then Mrs. Paley suddenly chimes in with her own rhapsody for that beautiful city, as well as Paris, Provence and the travels each of them had done with their now-departed spouses. After the ladies have headed for home, Mrs. Paley enlightens Dinah that the gentleman is wearing fine tailored clothes, even if they are well-worn, and is clearly quite wealthy. “Rich people never look rich,” she says. “Rich people have holes in the soles of their shoes. It’s because they don’t care. They don’t have to care.” Feeling better now, Mrs. Paley dismisses Dinah, who next moves in with the Wallace family, the mother of which is recovering from knee surgery, at 920 Park Avenue—nothing but the finest addresses for our Dinah! There we enjoy the younger Wallaces, Joanie (age 8) and Wendy (age 4), who track gooey finger paint all over the apartment.


Dick, meanwhile, after dropping off Dinah and Mrs. Paley, has been unable to get Dinah out of his mind, so he phones all over town to track her down, finally reaching the Wallace’s house on his fifth try but being subjected to a long conversation with the four-year-old before Dinah intervenes. Dick asks her out, and Dinah eagerly accepts. “I’ve always wanted something like this to happen to me, Dinah thought. Someone coming unexpectedly into my life … remembering me. Not forgetting. Calling me up …” Their date takes them throughout New York, and Dinah is completely won over: “She was brimming with contentment, happier than she ever remembered being, so much at peace that she would almost have settled for this perfect day being the last one of her life.”


For her part, Mrs. Paley wanders back to the Sutton Place park and runs into the older gentleman—now we learn he is Gordon Claiborne—who is reading a book that he offers her along with an invitation to dinner in a painful, tender and truly touching scene in which they discuss loneliness before deciding to dine together at a bistro on 51st Street on scallops and trout with French pastries and vintage brandy afterward. “I don’t remember ever having been so hungry,” Mrs. Paley thinks. “It was simply the incontestable fact of a woman on the arm of a distinguished man that made all the difference. It was a social thing, a human thing.” They make another date as they say goodnight, and she falls asleep without effort, for the first time since her husband died.


There are the inevitable hurdles for the younger lovers to overcome, such as Mike Corby, and Dick’s fiancée, and a beautiful day sailing that ends disastrously when Dinah realizes that Dick is trying to seduce her: “I refuse to be someone’s prey,” she fumes and is about to walk home when he offers to drive her, but asks her to stop for coffee on the way to clear the air. “If he was just going to take her home and ditch her, write her off as a bad try and a poor guess, why would he suggest stopping off for coffee?” She thinks hopefully, realizing he wanted her because he loves her, not just to use her. Over coffee he invites her to meet his aunt, and a series of startling coincidences unfolds, ultimately leading to what would be a truly fabulous ending, except for the last sentence.


This book is as much an homage to the city of New York as it is a double romance—not surprising, given the title. We traipse all over the city on various dates, take in the view on Wall Street and Trinity Church, commune with the animals at the Central Park Zoo, dine out on Bank and MacDougal Streets in Greenwich Village, and sip cocktails at the Drake Hotel. I also especially appreciated the double romance that included an older couple, which was so unexpected and sweet that it actually left me weeping in a public lobby.


As usual, Fletcher tucks in many cultured references such as Elsa and Siegfried, Balenciaga, Fleurs de Rocaille perfume, Emma Bovary, Steiff toys, Schubert, Genêt, Jane and Paul Bowles, tempus fugit, and the Perls art gallery, among others. The humor is sprinkled liberally throughout, with lines like “‘Did it cost an arm and a leg?’ ‘Just an arm,’ Dinah said.” and “It was sentimentality, born of the gratuitous effects of a sleeping pill, but it was nice to hear.” The only thing I didn’t love about Dinah is that she is willing to chuck her career when she gets married, which she thinks won’t be a problem if she’s “crazy in love.” “Now her nursing days were almost over. Was she sorry about it? Yes, a little. When you married, you gave up your own life. Women did, at any rate. Would she ever regret it?” But in general, this is a top-notch book, Fletcher—who continues as one of my very favorite authors—in fine form.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Flight Nurse

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1971 

When beautiful young Pat Romain became a U.S. Air Force nurse, she was fleeing the memory of a disastrous love. But soon her personal hurt was forgotten amid the larger pain of the wounded soldiers she tended. Intense, breath-catching drama was part of Pat’s daily routine on the Med Evac plane shuttling between embattled jungle airfields and hospitals in the Philippines and Hawaii. Another kind of drama raged within her heart as two men—a brilliant doctor and a gallant pilot—competed for her affections. It took a searing confrontation with tragedy, and a desperate crisis aboard a crippled plane, for Pat to discover her full worth as a nurse, and her wisdom as a woman in love.


“Well, at least, fellows, we’re plane-wrecked with the prettiest nurse in the whole Air Force!”

Pat Romain is an Air Force lieutenant and nurse who has enlisted in an 18-month tour shuttling wounded soldiers back from southeast Asia to safer hospitals, and recovered soldiers back into battle, a stint she has chosen in part because of, yes, a broken heart, after her beau “rushed her almost to the altar before he had eloped with the daughter of the physician who headed the Physical Medicine Department. To escape seeing him every day, another woman’s happy husband, she enlisted in the Air Force.” But right away she is being rushed again, this time by Kev Moriarty, medical school dropout and pilot, who is described in glowing terms such as “blithe, brash, irreverent” and “rakish,” all properties any woman would hope for in a serious boyfriend. But two pages after meeting the shallow, wolfish cad, Pat “was falling precipitately in love with him,” for some inexplicable reason, because he is not a likable fellow, we discover, as Pat goes on a date in San Francisco with him and her new roommate and he spouts lines like, “You’ll  miss me when I’m gone.” Actually, no, we won’t.

Not to worry, though, because even though “her heart lurched crazily” when she thinks of him, she proves herself to be as fickle as Kev is, instantly falling for a talented, alarmingly dedicated and possibly unhinged frontline surgeon, Dr. Paul Anders, the stuff of most of the flight nurses’ dreams but who inexplicably takes Pat in his arms and tells her he loves her at the end of a flight in which they both had been extremely busy tending to the wounded soldiers in their care. Now she’s planning her wedding to Paul barely six months into her Air Force service while Kev, whom she runs into now and then, gives her sad-dog eyes. She really doesn’t spend much more time with Paul than she did on their initial flight, because he’s on the front lines and she’s on planes all the time, setting down for literally only 20 minutes at a time in Vietnam before taking off again. They’re all set to tie the knot when the inevitable happens, and Pat is alone again—but she has her good friend Kev to help shore her up. What will happen next?

One of a few nurse novels I’ve read that are set amidst the Vietnam War (see Vietnam Nurse and Vietnam Nurse), Flight Nurse literally only briefly touches down on that conflict, and honestly the book has little to say about the war except fairly regular remarks about wounded soldiers who have vacant looks in their eyes or who “were resigned to never being men again,” whatever thats supposed to mean. One interesting point about this book is that it never takes back Pat’s first two boyfriends, pretending after the fact that she never loved them. The other is that her roommate, Miriam, is a Black woman, a rarity in VNRNs, though this is really not discussed except when Miriam notes that their new roommate is awfully rude to Miriam: “To her, Patricia, I’m black before I am either a flight nurse or a human being, I’m not sure in which order. I feel sorry for her.” Pat replies she does too, though she’s angry as well—and that’s the end of the subject. 

The book has little in the way of plot or medical interest (except for the time Dr. Anders recommends a rectal tube as a means of decompressing a soldier who is inexplicably eviscerating), and though its admiration for the Air Force is clear, as a civilian I found it occasionally difficult to navigate the military abbreviations and jargon, not to mention literally navigate where Pat was or where she was headed, as she might be visiting several countries in a single day, and I wasn’t immediately aware of where all the bases she lands at are located. So unless you are an especially devoted fan of Vietnam War literature or the Air Force, you’d be better off missing this flight.