Monday, February 28, 2011

Night Nurse

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1962
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin

Nurse Kitty Casey’s personal concern for her young patient alienated the boy’s domineering mother who demanded Kitty’s removal from the case. While Doctor Tom Barbour understood Kitty’s feeling for the boy, he had no alternative but to order her reassignment. If she protested, it would mean dismissal from the hospital. But Tom Barbour had never met anyone quite like this spirited redhead. How different Kitty was from his own coldly self-centered fiancée. There was no denying the attraction Nurse Casey held for him, even as she challenged him in a dramatic clash of wills.

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“He started to cough; the racking, chronic cough which his mother insisted came from a tubercular condition, although a dozen or more doctors and tests galore had found no trace of T.B. He asked Kitty to light a cigarette for him.”

“Honey, there’s a time to forget about all figures—except how to make the most of your own.”

“The kiss he gave her when he said hello had all the warmth of a refrigerator that needed defrosting.”

“You’re a nurse, and that’s the most important thing of all. All a doctor does is walk in, look wise and walk out again. The nurse is the really big deal.”

“What’s the point in being a doctor if you aren’t going to cash in?”

REVIEW:
Nurse Kitty Casey never once works at night. So why is this book called Night Nurse? I seem to be on a string of books that have little to do with their titles (see Runaway Nurse and Ozark Nurse), and frankly, this trend bugs me. When I pick up a book called Night Nurse, I expect there to be at least one night shift, damn it! I mean, otherwise you could just as well call it Nurse Nancy Navigates the Nile. Which sounds like a great book, actually.

The “boy” referred to in the back cover blurb is 19-year-old Kenny Wilson. Kenny has the monster mother we’ve met before in other books by this same author (The Nurse and the Orderly), the fat one who wants to keep her boy a helpless, dependent baby. We’re told this more than shown it, as when sad Kenny tells Kitty that his mom drowned his pet kitten and then whipped him, telling him to control his “silly emotions.” Though we do get to witness Mrs. Wilson screaming at the staff on multiple occasions, the sting isn’t as harsh as if she were saying these nasty things to her own child. Kenny is on the brink of a nervous breakdown because his mother ruined his engagement. Kitty encourages his recovery with helpful exhortations such as, “You don’t want to turn into a mental case, do you?”

The compassionate Kitty just wants to help the poor, broken boy, but every time she tries comforting him, in walks Mrs. Wilson, who takes her tales of the brazen, provocative hussy straight to the chief of staff, Dr. Tom Barbour. He tells Kitty that she is too emotionally involved in her patients, to which she responds, “I’m a human being as well as a nurse!” Many VNRN heroines seem to consider humanity and nursing to be mutually exclusive (see Headline Nurse), but Kitty is an exception. Must be that red hair of hers.

Being the impulsive, hot-headed gal that she is, she up and quits the hospital, but Dr. Tom chases her down at her apartment that night, and takes her for a drive in the hills of Los Angeles to his secret little house, replete with packed bookshelves and Navajo rugs, on a cliff overlooking the city. Not even his fiancée, social butterfly Eleanor Blair, has been there. Natch, it isn’t long before Tom is kissing Kitty. He doesn’t really love Eleanor, who is a cold, calculating glamour puss who dazzled him with charm shortly after he arrived in California from the sticks. She wants a rich physician husband, but he’s more inclined to be a do-gooder, so they have a lot of arguments about why he can’t make this dinner party or has to go check on that patient. But not to worry, it’s just a matter of time before the men, who are fortunate to have Kitty to set them straight, are pointed in the right direction, which means down the aisle for all three of them (there’s a longtime beau in the mix as well).

Marge, the ubiquitous witty roommate, livens up the dialogue. Marge gives Kitty some advice before her date with Dr. Tom that is worthy of Polonius: “Don’t start fighting the man, even if he does say things to irritate you. Men can’t stand belligerent women. And keep your opinions on all matters to yourself. That’s another thing men don’t like: women with opinions. If you feel your face sort of falling apart, make for the nearest rest room and give it a going over. And take along this vial of perfume—it’s a weapon a gal should never be without. If he tries to kiss you, don’t shy away. You aren’t a skittish horse, you know. And you might throw in a few words about what a wonderful, wonderful man he really is. Nothing throws a man faster than being told how truly wonderful he is.” And this above all things, to thine own self be true.

The writing is crisp and brisk, with some campy touches now and again, and we are regularly treated to sentences like, “ ‘Friends?’ she said vaguely, as if it were a word she must look up in the dictionary,” and “ ‘Really?’ she said, trying to look wildly interested.” It’s a good book, and it certainly makes for a pleasant afternoon. But I still closed it with a sense of mild disappointment. If only Ms. Stonebraker had just cranked it up a notch, this could have been a great book.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Challenge for Nurse Laurel

By Fay Stone, ©1970

“Is that you, Laurel? How are you, darling?” When Nurse Laurel Winston realized who was on the phone, she was startled, then angry, at her pulse-pounding reaction. Ambitious young Dr. Neil Elliott had jilted her months before, for a rich heiress. Now here he was calling the suicide prevention center where she worked, asking her … what? To come on a case where a 12-year-old child tried to drown herself? To “watch over the poor psychotic little thing until she can be committed.” Laurel’s impulse was to say no—she wanted nothing more to do with Neil Elliott. But she changed her mind when her chief, Dr. Powers, asked her to take the case, as a favor to him. And when she met her young patient, Laurel was glad she had changed her mind. Because something was very wrong—something she didn’t begin to understand until it threatened them both…

GRADE: D+

BEST QUOTES:
“For six months you haven’t heard the fellow’s voice. The minute you do, your body chemistry goes right out of balance.”

“She was just another jilted girl, and she’d have to make the best of it.”

“A little girl burning up with fever really should have priority over such minor considerations as to whether a nurse had the right to be blonde and dressed in black pants.”

“She considered all the psychopaths running loose around California. One could read any front page. Some nice-appearing, apparently trustworthy character would suddenly go berserk and murder somebody, many half a dozen somebodies. And as often as not, the murderer turned out to be the gardener! Oh, yes. For some reason not at all clear, psychos seemed to gravitate to wealthy homes to look after the flowers.”

“Plenty of women seemed grim indeed when they showed their faces as nature made them.”

REVIEW:
An unwanted child; a glamorous, wealthy mother perched on the brink of psychosis; a hunky guy in love with the nurse but contemplating marrying the shrew for the sake of the child—haven’t I just read this book? Well, yes and no. It’s true that the circumstances of Challenge for Nurse Laurel are strikingly similar to the last book I read, Runaway Nurse, but oh, what a difference an author makes. While Runaway Nurse is lively, campy, and fun, Nurse Laurel is ponderous, dull, and stupid. The best line—the back cover blurb quote in which nurse Laurel is exhorted to “watch over the poor psychotic little thing”—is not even in the book, and it’s a sad day when the blurb writer outshines in one paragraph an author who has 208 pages to exert her muscles.

Laurel, a country bumpkin loose in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, was jilted by the suave psychiatrist Neil Elliott months ago. But now, for reasons never explained, the only nurse who can help him is Laurel. She is to babysit the adopted and despised daughter of Nina Newlands, 12-year-old Pat, who is hearing her recently deceased father’s voice telling her to kill herself. Laurel, first hearing the story, asks, “Could it be that the youngster was psychic?” If Neil weren’t such a jerk, he would have entertained this perfectly rational explanation. But instead, mean old Neil “brushed the notion aside as so much nonsense.” Probably because Neil needs Laurel’s testimony that the girl is nuts so Pat can be popped into a straightjacket and whisked off to the asylum for a lifetime of shock treatments. This would mean that her father’s oil well fortune, which has been left entirely to Pat, would then be at Nina’s disposal—just an incidental fact that surely has no bearing on the matter.

When Laurel first meets the little nut job, Pat has been tied to her bed for two hours because Nina “must have a little time to rest and meditate, and not be worried wondering if you’ve run off to destroy yourself again.” The gardener, Al Kendrick, shimmies up the drainpipe to assist the girl, who has started screaming. For just a hired boy, he is pretty aggressive and rude to Nina, who uncharacteristically wilts before him. Pat is untied, and Laurel gives her a bath. (My 12-year-old daughter would rather hack off an arm with a butter knife than let me give her a bath, but I hear girls grow up quicker these days.) Tucked amongst the towels is a note ostensibly written by Pat’s dead father Byron, urging her to join him in heaven. That night Laurel, in the next room from Pat’s, hears scraping and whistling, and then Pat is screaming her head off about a ghost in her room. This is all Dr. Neil needs to start ordering the girl’s one-way ticket to the nuthouse.

Laurel is horrified by the prospect, because everyone knows those places are just packed with “hopeless derelicts of a subterranean world; a variety of defectives, from high-grade morons to low-grade imbeciles and idiots … the abnormal, the mentally twisted, the grotesque creatures who were lost to hope. … the mentally retarded, the unfit, some of them Mongolian idiots.” Oh, God, anything but people with Down syndrome!!! If this is the qualified opinion of a highly skilled psychiatric nurse, the profession is in serious trouble.

Will Laurel and her new-found love Al be able to get to the bottom of the mystery in time? Well, if all it takes is a hare-brained scheme, everything will be great, because this pair has them in spades. First, Laurel is going to kidnap Pat, and Laurel’s esteemed physician friend and mentor, whose medical license apparently means nothing to him, is going to help them hide the child. If that doesn’t work, Al is going to marry Nina in exchange for her promise to leave Pat alone. Nina is all over this plan like the dog on your leg. Never mind that there is absolutely no reason why a very wealthy woman should go for the gardener (Lady Chatterley notwithstanding) when she has done nothing but snarl at this one, and she certainly has no shortage of better prospects, Dr. Neil included. The only thing Al can give her, she herself acknowledges, is “the delight of abandoning herself to the joy and delights of a vital woman in the arms of a truly fabulous man.” As it were. She could probably just drive down to Sunset Boulevard and get herself a gigolo for a lot less hassle.

The plot is telegraphed from every page. Again and again Laurel goes over the implausibility of there being an actual ghost, who might be behind it, what there is to gain from this plot—though only a low-grade imbecile could miss it. Could it be Nina? Is it Al? Neil? Nina? Al? Neil? Around and around we go, pounding to death a question no reader could possibly care about. There are a few other “mysteries” tossed in, like who Pat’s parents really were, and has anyone else noticed that her eyes are so much like Al’s?

Then there are the parts that just make no sense at all. Nina takes a great deal of crap from Al, and when she tries to fire him, he tells her that the house belongs to Pat, so she can’t make him leave, because Pat “has the legal right to decide who was to stay there, who was to go.” I really don’t think a 12-year-old child has that kind of legal authority, even in California. When Nina rightfully retorts that she, as Pat’s guardian, indeed has that right, Al says that the court has not yet appointed her Pat’s guardian. Again, wha-a-a-a-a? Are we really supposed to believe that Pat was adopted by Byron Newlands alone, and that Nina has no legal relationship whatsoever to a girl she has raised for 12 years? And when you get to the final aha moment, when all is revealed, the unbelievable coincidence is so contrived and lame that it’s all you can do to keep your gorge in check. Really, just toss this bore of a book and run straight to Runaway Nurse.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Headline Nurse

By Phyllis Ross, ©1965
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett

“I’m a nurse! Not a woman!” She kept repeating the words to herself as she looked down at Pete’s broken body. His shirt was in rags, one trouser was ripped from ankle to knee, and there was a terrible gash on his forehead. She took out bandages and antiseptic and began to dress the wounds—all the time trying to forget that the battered man was the one she loved. The others in the clinic had turned their backs for a moment. She leaned down quickly and brushed her lips against his bruised cheek. “Oh, my darling,” she cried softly, “My poor darling.”

GRADE: B

BEST QUOTES:
“College, by itself, doesn’t fit you for any career except teaching.”

“Not many women can look sleek and sinuous on a stanchion!”

“Chrys went there to relax and Ken went there to neck.”

“What are you—a communist?”

REVIEW:
Chrys Evans has just graduated from nursing school and has taken a job as nurse at the Port Anne Gazette—“temporarily,” she acknowledges, until she gets herself a husband. And not just any husband, mind you, but a rich one. Chrys (short for, I’m sorry to say, Chrysanthemum) is unique amongst VNRN heroines in that she is a blatant gold digger. While hanging out on the docks one evening—she’s from Arizona, see, so all that water is really fascinating—she happens to run into Ken Hopkins, the 22-year-old son of her boss, newspaper magnate Gary Hopkins. At the end of their conversation, he kisses her. I’m always stunned by the rapidity in which the male characters make their move.

While Chrys knows that she could have Ken on a leash in no time, she also knows that “she could never, never get him to marry her. A boy who can be forced into a business he detests will never marry against his parents’ wishes.” So her scheme is to get him to take her to a big upcoming dance at the country club, where she can rub silk-clad elbows with the town’s elite, and “find her way to other, less infant sons.” She’s pretty ruthless in her attempt to reel in her invitation, too. The next time she meets him, she plays him like a pro. “Say, have you eaten lunch?” he asks her. “As if the idea had just come to him,” she thinks. He takes her to a restaurant, where the menu “was oversized—and expensive. Good!” She orders the chateaubriand, and eats every bit of it. This girl is a hungry tiger.

But there’s this up-and-coming reporter, Peter John Sprock. He visits her on the first day with a fake injury, because word gets around—“word that the new nurse was quite a dish!” With lines like that, you know she is going to tumble for him like a bag of wet cement, and who could blame her? The first sign of their blossoming love is a tendency to quarrel whenever they meet. When Pete shows up at the clinic door, trying to find out why Chrys has sent a fellow employee to the hospital, she refuses to tell him anything. “ ‘Career women!’ Pete snarls, and stamped out of the clinic.” Boy, he really knows how to insult a gal.

Chrys finally snags her invitation to the ball—but what is she going to wear? She has to have an insanely expensive dress, “not for Ken, or for Ken’s friends. He wouldn’t know the difference between a basement bargain and a Paris original. But his mother would know, all right, and the mothers of his friends.” So how is our schemer going to get the money for this dress? Enter Pete, who takes Chrys to the horse races—naturally she wins big, $244, on a long shot. She has no qualms about informing Pete exactly what she’s up to. The money is “not really for a dress, Pete. For a chance to sail down that river, and out to sea. For a chance to do things and see things in the great big world—and not be cooped up forever in a narrow town, with a husband I’ve come to despise, and children I resent.” Money can buy glamour, she tells him—and he answers, “Apparently it can buy you.” Chrys, bless her, is not even insulted by this remark.

Then push comes to shove—and to brass knuckles—when Pete is beaten up while covering a dockworkers’ strike. While she is patching him together again, she keeps herself from falling apart by telling herself, “I’m a nurse! Not a woman, but a nurse … That’s not Pete—that’s only a nameless, faceless patient.” She takes him home and stays with him all night—on the living room sofa, I swear!—most of which she spends thinking, “very deeply, about herself.” Guess what she decides?

Headline Nurse has some unique aspects to it, and the writing is entertaining. The cover illustration is good, if limited, and I love the fact that the cover includes the line, “Continued on back page.” At first this just confused me, but the back cover is more clearly laid out to look like a newspaper clipping, so even if it took a while, I finally got the reference. All in all, even if this is not a great book, it is nonetheless worth reading.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Runaway Nurse

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1964

“Your man hasn’t broken away from the past—and never will.” Nurse Gail Winters tried to forget her mother’s words. She and Dr. Craig Hadley were in love and that was all that mattered. But was it? Craig was divorced. He had nothing but hatred for his former celebrity wife, Vera Vaughn. But there was a matter of a million dollars involved and Vera was a very greedy woman. All Gail could offer Craig was her love. But was that enough when his ex-wife was offering him his child? It was a game with high stakes—and the winner would take all.

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“How about some lunch before you go? I have some nice indigestible frankfurters.”

“ ‘Now when I was a kid, about your age, there was a character known as Popeye who was something of an authority on spinach. Is he around any more?’
“Bobby’s round blue eyes gazed up at her with utter disgust. ‘Oh, to hell with Popeye,’ said Bobby.”

“As always, Gail longed to take the child in her arms, to give him a big bear hug. But a bear hug could kill Jimmy.”

“This was a good neighborhood, the homes in the thirty or forty-thousand-dollar class, the cars mostly Cadillacs.”

“If I hadn’t tried that judo hold we nurses are taught, she might have killed me.”

“Gail sat very still, her hands clasped in her lap, and found herself wishing fiercely, a bit madly, that she had a shotgun.”

REVIEW:
Gail Winters has something no other vintage nurse romance novel heroine I’ve ever met has: a divorced fiancé. Well, at least she’s not the one with the divorce, which would impugn her virginal status. But even more scandalous is the fact that Dr. Craig has a five-year-old daughter. Ginny was born with a heart condition—“some heart veins were on the wrong side,” we are told, these days known as transposition of the great vessels, for all you aspiring cardiologists out there. She had surgery at age 18 months and barely survived the long odds, but now she must be kept from the least stress or pressure lest her defective little heart explode or something.

Naturally, Mommie Dearest isn’t helping much with this. Craig’s ex-wife, Vera, is a fabulous piece of work, in the noblest glamorous-fading -starlet-run-amok tradition. She’s still got it, but not for long: “Despite her forty-three years, Vera was still a lovely-looking woman, even now, in the morning.” Pregnancy, rather than bestowing her with a beatific glow, just “ruined her figure.” When Ginny lands in the hospital with pneumonia, Vera shows up, “a stunning, black-haired woman, wearing a white wool suit collared in flattering white fox fur,” leaning over her delirious child and seething, “You’re the most exasperating child. Screaming tantrums, now this. As if I didn’t have enough on my mind already.” Vera stars in a TV show that is losing sponsors by the minute, but she has the idea that if she can get Ginny on the show—“Ginny is perfect for the part of my obstreperous little stepdaughter, just perfect!”—her ratings will climb back up again. Dr. Craig and Gail, however, are of the opinion that the stress would kill pathetic little Ginny.

Vera had a hardscrabble childhood, living “in a horrid little flat above a cheap, smelly delicatessen where her German father sold greasy sausages and revolting concoctions that were enough to turn your stomach. The odors that came up from that shop were sickening … and out of them were born Vera’s determination to get away to be somebody, to get hold of money.” In what could be a smart bit of writing or just a fortuitous accident, the author ends this description of Vera’s motivations with a subtle study of contrasts: “Now, at forty-three, what did she have to show for all her splendid dreams, for the hard work and sacrifices of a lifetime? She rubbed herself dry with an enormous towel, slipped on a yellow satin robe and went back to the bedroom.” In her California mansion, Vera has clearly come a long way from the delicatessen, but it’s just not enough for her insatiable appetite.

And the main fuel to her ambition is the million bucks that a rich dying patient bequeathed to Dr. Craig, though he really intended it to be for Gail, who had cared for him in his final days. He couldn’t just give it to her, apparently, because his greedy, thieving relatives would contest the will and “make something nasty of it.” To protect Gail’s reputation, the thoughtful old dear, he gives it to her fiancé—but then Vera gets the idea that if she marries Craig, she’ll get the money. And Ginny is the perfect bait to lure him into this trap.

You know exactly where this book is going, but it’s a fun ride. I expected greatness from Ms. Stuart, who also penned The Nurse and the Orderly, another camp fest. The only problem is that it gets an idea and really beats it hard. Of the three main female characters—there’s a head nurse in the mix—two of the three are bona-fide psychotics, complete with stopovers in the loony bin on their resumes, and the third (that would be Gail) is repeatedly accused of being one. And as fabulous as Vera is, she’s a one-note wonder that wears a bit thin with repeated pounding. A little less exposure to her ranting would make her a more worthy character.

One unique aspect of this book is how it lets us into the delivery room. We get to witness two babies being born, both of them to teenagers, curiously. One of the doctors is “palpating Hilly’s abdomen with one hand while his rubber-gloved left hand explored the pelvic region”—a possible shocking reference to a vaginal exam!! (Could this bear any relationship to the persistent VNRN fascination with a doctor’s long, slender fingers?) The patient is in labor, and he’s telling her to “just relax and doze off if she felt like it.” Do you suppose the author has actually experienced childbirth?

More of a quibble is that Runaway Nurse is another one of those titles that has very little to do with the story. There is, in fact, a point near the very end of the book where Nurse Gail Winters takes off with Ginny, but the whole situation seemed so unimportant, resolved in a few pages, and occurred so late in the book that I didn’t really associate it with the title. But with such a great cover illustration, and a magnificent story inside, I forgive all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

East of the Sun

By Hermina Black, ©1952

The oasis hospital of St. Anthony of the Desert was comparatively quiet until the arrival of dynamic young Dr. Allerby. And what was Venetia, the attractive young Matron, to do about Prince Amin-Ali, now that she knew where her heart lay?

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“The shortage of red tape would have made an average hospital committee faint.”

“If that is Dr. Glennister Allerby it’s just wickedly wasteful of him to keep his mind on microbes.”

“Temper—temperament, and—much too good looking! Three things I detest in a doctor.”

“Heaven alone knows what orgies we’ll be up to, when you’re no longer here to control us, sir.”

“Other girls fell in love and got themselves kissed—but by what inadequate men, poor things!”

“Meggie moved away, looking really pretty with the help of the finest cosmetic any girl can have—happiness.”

“ ‘Kiss me!’ he commanded. ‘Homeopathic doses are all very well, but—I’ve never prescribed them—’ ”

REVIEW:
British vintage nurse romance novels have a certain feeling about them. They’re calm, with a bit of a stiff upper lip; there’s lots of conversation and tea, and not much really happens. Even the back cover blurb, above, exemplifies their quiet and contained nature. As an American—or maybe that’s really my low-brow taste—I prefer the camp and crash of a fabulously silly book like Cover Girl Nurse, but now and again, I do enjoy a nice cup of hot and a British VNRN.

East of the Sun, we are told repeatedly, is a reference to the song, so now whenever I see the cover I hear Tony Bennett crooning his heart out. Venetia Corliss is the young Matron (for a glossary of British terms, see Silent Heart) of a hospital in the desert, drawn because, in true colonial fashion, “Every now and then certain Europeans are born into the world who are attracted by the Arab races—living among them they develop a love and understanding which is as strong as any racial tie.” Well, let’s not get too carried away.

The PMO, or principal medical officer, or chief of staff, is Dr. Hammond, her godfather, but he’s having a bit of a health crisis and is off to England for six months to unwind. In his stead comes Dr. Glennister Allerby, who is quite the hot tomato—though our cool Venetia is unmoved. “All the nurses will fall in love with him,” says Farina, a princess and one of Venetia’s patients. “What nonsense!” Venetia answers. “You read too many romances.” Indeed, Venetia and Dr. Allerby cross swords almost immediately—but we all know what that portends. “When you begin by hating a man you almost always fall in love with him,” predicts the wise Farina.

Someone else is vying for Venetia’s affections—Prince Amin-Ali, the prime minister and also cousin of the desert country’s ruler. He is, in fact, the reason Dr. Allerby initially dislikes Venetia, as he finds a card bearing a suggestive message in some flowers Amin-Ali has given her. Dr. Allerby is a bit more openly bigoted, even hesitating before he can bring himself to shake the prince’s hand on their first meeting: “Plenty of Western women found Eastern men attractive, though the type of women who did, had always raised his disgusted contempt. … If she must philander, couldn’t she find someone of her own color?” What Dr. Allerby doesn’t realize is that however suave the prince is—he drives a powder-blue Rolls Royce and hands out emerald bracelets like they were candy bars—his suit with Venetia is doomed, because, after all, he is a “darned wog.” So much for that “love and understanding.” He’s also married, but that doesn’t seem to occupy a prominent place in Venetia’s consideration of the man’s romantic possibilities.

We’re told that Venetia doesn’t care for him because “he was Eastern to the core as far as his opinion of the place women should occupy in the world went.” Farina tells Venetia, “He would keep us veiled forever, if he could … We are for play-time, and not to be taken seriously in a man’s world. … He may have studied at a French university, but he is still only one step outside the harem. And he keeps his foot against the door!” But there’s a bit of a double standard at work here. Once Venetia and Glen hook up (you knew that was coming), she puts the handcuffs on herself: “She would have resented being ordered to do anything, once—after all she was his property.” After they are married, Venetia thinks, to resume working will be “a big temptation … but she knew she must resist. Dear as her work was to her—difficult as it might be to choose between her two loves, being Glen’s wife was going to be a full time job.” So it seems Easterners aren’t the only ones who go in for harems; is it any better that the Western version is apparently self-imposed?

Glen and Venetia get over their bad start by mid-book, after which we are regularly treated to nauseating syrup such as “the real be-all and end-all of life was Glen,” “without him she could never be whole again,” “how had she ever lived without him,” can you take any more? But if we are to plump up the second half of the book, something must happen beyond swooning. So Dr. Glen wanders into the garden at a party, finds Amin-Ali trying to kiss Venetia against her will, and socks the prince on the jaw. (Of course, Glen later is angry at Venetia for allowing herself to be sexually assaulted, and she agrees that she was “wrong on every count.” Nice.) This is where the real drama—if we can use the word in such a mild book—begins, because, “In men of his race, hatred is a dangerous and destructive flame.” Amin-Ali will avenge the insult, so Venetia spends a lot of time sick with worry about Glen’s terrible peril. There is indeed an attempt on his life—will he survive? And how can we possibly find the evidence that Amin-Ali was behind it? Not to worry, everything comes to light, and the prince is mysteriously disappeared by the country’s ruler, though no one seems to be overly troubled by this lapse in the rule of law.

East of the Sun is a pleasant little book, racial bigotries notwithstanding. There are some interesting minor characters, including Frances, a trollop of a nurse who stirs up trouble for Glen and Venetia. The luxurious touches make the book more exotic, such as when “the Rolls stopped, and the blue and silver uniformed attendant sitting beside the chauffeur, got out, and opened the door with a deep bow. And out stepped Frances Elland. The car slid away, while Frances, looking cool, and very smart, in her grey silk suit and feathered hat, came slowly up the steps.” (
Some VNRN reviewers find these attentions to wardrobe patronizing, but I, for one, will shamelessly admit that I love them.) The settings are also alluring, as we spend a fair amount of time on shaded verandas with wooden slatted blinds or rooms with carved and gilded ceilings, walls of deep lapis lazuli flecked with silver, and deep chairs covered with blue morocco leather. It’s not quite as campy as some VNRNs, but it’s not meant to be, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book in its own right.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Arctic Nurse

By Rose Dana (pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1966

Following in her missionary father’s footsteps, Nurse Grace gave up her comfortable city job to work in the small Arctic hospital. But she hadn’t counted on the young surgeon—and her hopeless love for him. Or on the violence that suddenly erupted in the tiny community. Or on the plane crash that brought a vital young stranger into her life. The Arctic winter was torn by violence—and she was shaken by a whirlwind in her heart.

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“The past was as real to him as the scar on his cheek.”

“He had a strong, distinguished-looking face, even with half of it lacerated and bloodstained.”

“When I first landed here you all annoyed me. Since then I’ve changed. I’ve grown to hate you.”

“You’re a pleasant change from these little brown-skinned gals.”

REVIEW:
Not many vintage nurse romance novels have as much going on as Arctic Nurse. This book actually makes use of its setting, allowing us to experience (in an admittedly limited way) what the Arctic is like. We get a fair amount of racism toward the native Eskimos, but it’s not your standard, straightforward prejudice; the white population is there primarily to assist the natives, and the interface between cultures of different technological levels is a complicated question with no real answer. So this book actually gives you something to think about, a rarity in the VNRN. (The only other VNRN that attempts a discussion on colonialism I’ve seen is Congo Nurse.)

Grace Barrow is on her third year in the Arctic at the hospital on Kovik Island, somewhere in way northern Canada. She’s doing this because she feels like she is helping her father, who was killed when she was five years old doing similar work. Dr. Mark Windsor came to the Arctic after he lost his fiancée in a car accident: He’d been driving them home from a party at which he had been drinking, and now he never touches the stuff, “refusing to join them even in a festive glass of wine at Christmas and New Year’s, because he blamed his drinking for the accident.” This is the first time I’ve ever seen the risks of drunk driving mentioned in any VNRN, though the characters certainly do it on a regular basis. Of course, Mark, who “could have had a brilliant future in any great hospital had come to bury his talent in this sixty-bed Arctic outpost hospital.” This is a more popular theme, that the genius doctor would better serve humanity in a city hospital. Because, as everyone knows, rural and non-white populations only rate sub-par physicians. Though the idea that general practice doctors can’t possibly be brilliant, that the best minds must specialize, lives on today. But I shouldn’t get started on that little diatribe.

There is “quite a sizable native village” on the island, and at one point 50 natives gather to hear news of a comrade who is sick in the hospital. They are balanced, or maybe outweighed, by six white characters: two doctors, two shopkeepers, a Mountie, and Grace. We are repeatedly given the white characters’ fondness for their brown neighbors: “Grace had come to understand and love the amiable, broad-faced people in their colorful woolen and fur jackets.” The two races even intermingle on occasion, though with mostly limited success, such as in the case of the two male Eskimo hospital attendants: “Even though they were well trained and had been educated at the mission schools this place still spoke of magic to them.”

Then there’s Konala, an Eskimo woman who has trained as a nurse in Toronto, where she was jilted by a white doctor. She is a perfect means to introduce paternalistic attitudes about Eskimos, such as, “Konala was living proof that the natives could adapt themselves to the twentieth century.” When Konala says her half-brother seems “filled with a wicked spirit,” Dr. Mark chides, “We don’t believe in wicked spirits do we, Konala? I mean, after all we’re much too well educated for that.” Grace warns the Mountie, Bert, about his growing closeness to Konala, saying he should be careful not to break her heart. “The natives don’t always understand the subtleness of our relationships,” she tells him. Konala is different from the other natives, “but only to the degree she’s absorbed our culture. She’s really typical of her own race in every other way. And I find the Eskimos a wonderful people.”

This love of the Eskimos is more than a little syrupy, not only to the reader but also to Grace’s single white patient, a crusty reporter who crashes his plane near the hospital. He tells off the whole gang, shouting that he’s sick of hearing them “saying how wonderful it is that you’ve come up here and dedicated your lives to the poor Eskimos! … As I see it you’re all failures. Covering your failure by running away from civilization and pretending to be heroes.” To Grace, he adds, “You’re in the Arctic because you think it would please dear old Dad who was a missionary. Your neurosis is you’re trying to live your father’s life rather than discover one of your own. … What really makes me rage is your mealy-mouthed way of pretending it’s because you love the Eskimos.” It’s an excellent point.

The question of whether the white people are a help to the Eskimos is raised repeatedly through the book. Grace “felt that civilization had come as a mixed blessing to them and it was up to those who cared to try and balance the scale in the Eskimo’s favor. To date it didn’t look too hopeful.” For starters, they brought the scourge of alcohol. The trading post owner “carefully guarded against large amounts of liquor getting into native hands,” because of course the poor devils just have no self-control; if great white doctor Mark could forswear the stuff, how hard can it be?

Dr. Mark believes that “another bad thing we white, and so-called civilized people, have brought to your country” is greed, “the white man’s curse.” He and Grace have a conversation in which they decide that “it brings people closer together when they have to struggle against nature. That’s why these Eskimos are so unselfish. … We had the same generosity in America during the frontier days. It still exists to a degree in small towns and villages. But we’ve lost it completely in our cities … So even civilization has its failings.” I’m frankly puzzled by their idea that frontier America was all sweetness and light; from what I have read, it was pretty rough and ragged—was the gold rush really known for its unselfish behavior?

So it’s not surprising that Dr. Mark sometimes gets discouraged: “I wonder if we’re getting anywhere after all. Maybe we should abandon these people to their own devices.” But Grace reminds him, “Civilization always brings drawbacks with its benefits.” That’s about as heavy as the discussion gets, but at least it raises the point that technology, modern education, and fancy hospitals aren’t the answer to every problem.

They’re certainly not the answer to disease. Tuberculosis is a particular scourge in the Arctic, and the barbaric treatments the natives get include thoracoplasty, which means “all of the upper ribs were removed over the region of the afflicted lung. This caused a partial collapse of the underlying lung and so permitted prolonged rest.” (In Ski Resort Nurse, they just poked the patient in the lung with a scalpel under local anesthesia, collapsing the lung in a far less invasive procedure.) Then there’s the phrenic nerve crush, in which a small incision is made in the neck above the collar bone, and the phrenic nerve supplying the diaphragm is grasped and crushed, paralyzing the diaphragm on one side. “And as a result the paralyzed diaphragm would rise up in the chest and cause a limitation of the lung’s expansion. Such a limitation took the place of a thoracoplasty in giving the lung a prolonged rest and it had the advantage of not being so drastic for the patient.” I’m going to have to do some research to see what the evidence-based medicine has to say as to which is the superior of these treatments. The sad thing is that some TB patients at the Kovik Island Hospital were receiving streptomycin, which actually worked.

As far as the story goes, the descriptions of life in the Arctic are interesting: The houses are built on piles of rock, because if the foundation rested on the frozen ground, the earth would melt and sink, throwing the house into crazy contortions. The supply ship comes to the settlement in the spring, after the harbor has cleared of ice, and the “balmy” summers bring temperatures as high as 50º, while the winter storms drop to -50º. Sometimes the references are a bit gratuitous, such as the time Grace recalls, “The afternoon I took my first dogsled trip and we passed that immense polar bear on the ice I knew I wasn’t in Boston!”

The writing carries you easily along; it’s more the numerous controversial issues that bring you up short now and then. While it’s easy to see the racism, you can’t avoid the fact that the white folks mean well, and sometimes they even recognize their narrow point of view, such as when we are told that though Konala’s romance with the white doctor fell apart, “it was hardly fair to blame this failure in love on her racial background; it could have happened to any young nurse.” (They still think of her race first, but at least they try to knock it to the background.) And when Konala worries about whether she should wed Bert even though they are different races, Grace gives her some very sound advice: “If you marry Bert do it with the feeling that you’re bringing as much to him as he is to you.” Now if only they weren’t so parsimonious with commas!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ozark Nurse

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1965

The man in her life was tall, blond Dr. Paul Anderson. Nurse Nora Hilton had fallen in love with the young surgeon almost from the moment they met. Their marriage plans were a lovely dream—right up to the moment when he lost faith in his surgical skill and, without warning, shut Nora out of his life. Stunned and hurt, she lost herself in her work. When a handsome, wealthy patient begged her to marry him, she was tempted. But could she ever really love him—when her heart belonged to another man?

GRADE: B+

BEST QUOTES:
“Don’t you know that some of the most fascinating women in history have been in their late thirties or early forties?”

“He had gone over to wherever it was they kept those poverty-stricken hill kids.”

“Bobby was a high-strung, nervous child .… It made Nora sick all through to watch him growing into a highly neurotic child in a constant state of anxiety. It was his mother’s fault.”

“You aren’t eating your frogs’ legs, honey.”

“Sometimes he wondered if he could be turning into a psycho.”

“She thought drearily, it’s probably my fate to end up another disgruntled, neurotic spinster who will be highly regarded as a dedicated nurse.”

REVIEW:
The titles are a huge part of the mystique of the vintage nurse romance novel. Arctic Nurse, Ski Resort Nurse, Jane Arden Space Nurse, Surf Safari Nurse, Hootenanny Nurse—how can you resist something like that? So between the title and the fabulous cover, Ozark Nurse had set itself a high standard to reach. It doesn’t quite make it, but like I said, it was a pretty high bar.

For starters, it seems to me that if you are going to call your book Ozark Nurse, you ought to have something of the actual Ozarks in the story. The only thing we find here is a passing reference to “the illiterate, poorly dressed old fellows who resided in huts and cabins in the backwoods. … These men, some of them, had never seen a bathtub. They lived in a primitive fashion, and considered themselves lucky if they had enough to eat. … They couldn’t read, write, or understand why anybody could be such a golderned fool as to go messing around up on the moon.” Well, that was easy. And once this facile and stereotypical backdrop is established in the first chapter, we never need think of the Ozarks again.

Nora lives with her widowed mother, and soon her shiftless brother Jerry, his wife Ethel, and their son Bobby move in, too, because Jerry has lost another job and doesn’t seem to feel like looking for another one. The responsibility of supporting the family falls to Nora: “She paid the food bills, the tax bills, most of the repair bills on their old house, not to mention a lot of other incidentals.” And now Jerry is pestering her to buy him a boat, which he claims is going to heal the ruptured disc in his back. The reason she continues to fork over most of her paycheck is that she is adopted, and she feels she owes it to the family to keep them all afloat.

Because of this obligation, Nora cannot accept the proposal of marriage by Dr. Paul Anderson, whom she loves madly. But at book’s open, Paul’s proposal has become as shaky as Nora’s family. He’s a pediatric surgeon, and the last four children he operated on have died. “And all four were patients whom no doctor could have saved,” we are told, but “Paul insisted on taking the once chance in a million—and he lost.” As a result, he has lost his nerve and is “going to pieces as a surgeon.” Soon he’s quit his job at the hospital and is working as a life guard. Really. If only, Nora tells him one day when she stops to visit him at his lifeguard chair, “if you had to operate, with no time to worry or wonder how it would turn out, that would do it, wouldn’t it?” Paul agrees. “But that would take a very special kind of situation. It would have to be made to order, really.” One made-to-order special kind of situation, coming up! Nora picks up the binoculars and scans the water: Is that little Bobby, choking there on the water’s edge?

One of the best points about this book is how the adoption issue is handled. At one point, Nora finally snaps and chews her family out for being such pathetic leeches, then storms off to her room. Her mother follows her, and guiltily admits that she’s let her biological children take advantage of Nora all their lives. Nora says this is as it should have been: “After all, I was only an adopted child.” Nora’s mom flames, “Don’t ever say that again! I never thought of you as adopted. You were my baby, in every sense except the physical sense, and that has little to do with maternal love.” The reason everyone leans on Nora is that “you’re the strong one,” she explains. “The rest of us are clinging vines … who can’t cope with life the way grown people should.” It doesn’t change the facts of the situation, but at least it does away with Nora’s idea that an adopted child is a second-class child. This has particular resonance for me because my sister is adopted. I never really understood that until I was about ten—she’s my sister in every way, and who actually gave birth to her is totally irrelevant to our relationship. So I was pleased to see the issue managed so well.

Fern Shepard’s writing is pretty good, and helps speed you smoothly through the book. She’s got some feisty characters in there—not the heroine, though; it seems the only VNRN characters with any real sass are always the best friends. The cover, of course, is fantastic, and if the title has little to do with the story, well, I’ll forgive this book.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Door to Door Nurse

By Jeanne Bowman (pseud. Peggy O'More Blocklinger), ©1967

Rietta Mendall, R.N., was perfectly happy. She was, in fact, in the middle of counting her blessings—her interesting work, her comfortable apartment—when tragedy struck. Her brother’s teenage son was in trouble, and Rietta’s help was needed. And when such a need existed, Rietta could not place her own happiness first. She knew that her brother’s troubles would clear up in time. But her own way of life was drastically altered. To support herself now, she worked as a visiting nurse serving a trailer community. Her patients’ problems became her problems…and multiplied rapidly. Then romance beckoned…and Rietta knew it was the one problem she might not be able to solve!

GRADE: D

BEST QUOTES:
“Oh, that we had the right to stab her with a hypo right where she needs it most.”

“Dunbar’s dream was as set as his arteries.”

REVIEW:
After Ms. Bowman’s Conflict for Nurse Elsa received the first (and still the only) failing grade I’ve ever handed down, I was reluctant to take up another of her titles. Why set yourself up for that kind of punishment? But—and bear with me—having discovered the blog
“Women Running From Houses,” and realized that nurses also have been seen running from houses (see Private Duty Nurse and Nurse at the Castle), I then discovered a sub-genre to that sub-genre: a nurse running from a trailer park. Which brings me to Door to Door Nurse.

Nurse Harriet “Rietta” Mendall has a nice life, a nice apartment, a nice job at Thorton Hospital. “She’d take her profession, with its assurance of an income … in preference to a wildly romantic love affair, marriage and an equally wild divorce with its residue of bitterness,” she says, because all marriages must eventually end in divorce. But then her inconsiderate sister-in-law Sophia, while making a “long cruise to regain nerve strength,” makes a stop in Peru and wires home that she’s going to be staying there for six months, leaving her husband Hal and their two teenagers, Teena and Merton, to fend for themselves. So Rietta quits her job, subleases her apartment, and moves into her brother’s spare bedroom. She takes a job as a visiting nurse, tending patients who are either well-to-do or poverty-stricken, or both, in the case of one widow who was once rich but has run out of money.

We meet numerous patients, too many to keep track of, many with alliterative names such as Leon Lieb, Lenore Lamont, Zelma Zander, and Dorcus Dunbar, who is a man, poor thing. We also meet the up-and-coming attorney and love interest with the unfortunate moniker Hadkin Stratford. He is confusingly nicknamed “Had,” which makes for false starts in sentences such as “Had Stratford arrived before Harold left for the base” and “Had Stratford waited a moment,” leaving you wondering if the first word is a past perfect verb or a proper noun. Or not, if you are less keen on grammar than I am.

One of Rietta’s patients lives in a trailer on his own property, but the town snots are trying to pass a law that prevents private property from hosting said humble dwellings. Had is working to add a clause to the law that grandfathers in properties already containing a trailer, bless his noble heart. He is also attempting to finance a trailer park, where new town residents who can’t afford a home fixed to the ground can put their trailers. Another of Rietta’s patients is trying to sell Had a worthless swamp, which will bankrupt him and make him unable to marry a particular young woman in town who “simply cannot afford to live on a restricted income.” Rietta is bound by ethics not to reveal anything she learns in the homes of her patients, so she is in a bit of a bind, more so because she is hankering for Had herself. He can give her, she believes, “a new life, a supplementary life which would make her more than merely a nurse.”

We get a fair amount of pop psychology suggesting that author thinks that “nerves” are the cause of all organic disease. Thorton Hospital apparently sees businessmen who “come in for recuperative rest when they’re facing some important meeting.” A patient with a new colostomy blames stress for her surgery: “I just tied my innards up in tensions until they wouldn’t come untied and had to be cut.” Rietta cautions herself not to eat when she is upset: “Hadn’t she been trained to relate upset emotions to an upset digestive tract?” Even Had has the curious belief that people who marry for financial or social gain “usually show up at one hospital or another.”

While not as bad as Conflict for Nurse Elsa, the prose contains a healthy amount of Ms. Bowman’s nonlinear writing, which runs around in circles, leaving you muddled and directionless. I give you the following paragraph: “Professionally she need not rush. Personally, she had to escape, get away from the very presence of the housekeeper. Ridiculous but true. Also interesting, a subject often discussed over the Thorton coffee tables: how individuals were like chemicals reacting on each other without motive or desire.” Can you run that by me again? When it’s not confusing, the language is stilted and phony, which seems to be an attempt to be literary but just makes me nauseous. Rietta leaves a note for her neighbor, saying, “Thank you for the nicest breakfast I’ve had in years. I savored peace and the promise of contentment.” When Sophia comes home early and brings a guest, effectively kicking Rietta out of her brother’s guestroom and rendering her homeless, she “sallied forth and bought the newly scorned: a mobile home.”

The wealthy characters in the book are generally haughty and rude, while the poor, like the colostomy patient, have many friends who care for them: “She thought of Mrs. Zander, whom no one wanted to drive to the city, and of Mrs. Minor, who would have to draw lots to determine which of the many would have what they’d consider a privilege. Which was the richer?” So we are treated to treacle about how much better off poor people are: “Mrs. Brown might be poor where money was concerned, but she was rich in understanding, the more lasting commodity.”

This book is barely tolerable, not really infuriating, but bestowing more of a mild queasiness, between the dizzy writing, the cloying sentiment, and the pretentious language. The concept—and the cover—of this book were far more promising than what it delivered. I’ve noticed that the titles of some nurse romance novels are used repeatedly, such as in Head Nurse (both Barbara Villet and Ruth Dorset have written a book of this title) and Big City Nurse (by both Jane Highmore and Peggy Gaddis, not to mention the smutty version by Albert L. Quandt). I’m not sure the title is worth recycling, but in the right hands—I’m talking to you, Faith Baldwin—the concept could be made into something really great.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nurse's Alibi

By Jane Corby, ©1966

Kate Saunders, R.N., returned from a working vacation as a ship’s nurse on a Caribbean cruise to find that a sensational murder had taken place in her home town on the very night of her departure. The chief suspect, George Hewlett, was claiming Kate as his alibi, and although Kate’s fiancé, Dr. Tim Weaver, advised her not to become involved, Kate felt she had a duty to tell what she knew, however dangerous that might be. With the support of handsome newspaper reporter Dave Warren who loved her, Kate followed her instincts and nearly risked losing love…and life as well.

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“There was something about the young man that annoyed her. Perhaps it was the way his sandy hair was cut, so that one side of it was combed down over his forehead in a kind of ragged bang.”

“I couldn’t help thinking how much more athletic you look without your clothes.”

“For this occasion she had not spared the eye shadow.”

“Don’t eat that candy! It may be poisoned!”

“The district attorney did manage to bring out the fact that George’s mother was ‘emotionally disturbed,’ but even this, Kate thought, would only prejudice the jury in his favor. Most of the men—and there were seven on the jury—had perhaps had a similar experience with their wives for a short period.”

REVIEW:
There is just no excuse for a dumb heroine. How can you have any sympathy for a woman who continually makes the worst possible choices, who throws logic to the wind, who is a complete hypocrite?

Meet Kate Saunders, who is working part-time as a nurse while she returns to Stratton University in Mansfield, NY, to obtain a graduate degree in psychiatry. A fellow student and acquaintance, George Hewlett, age 20, has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, Claire Taylor, who we are told is both 16 and 17. Kate has heard George say that he would kill Claire before he “let someone else have her,” and that he would do it by strangling her with a wire hanger, which is the exact way she died. She has heard him threaten other people as well. He has told the police that Kate was with him at the time of Claire’s murder, which is not true. She was “frightened at the way he lost control” when she told him she would not give him a false alibi. After George has been released from jail, a car just like his tries to run her off the road, and then George lies to her about where he was that night. And she receives an anonymous box of chocolates that has been poisoned.

What does Kate do with all this? Why, she tells no one at all about being run off the road, because “there was no use to add to the counts against him.” She asks the lab worker who tests the candy to destroy it all as well as his lab report. When she sees George on campus, she hurries to catch up with him and apologizes for not giving him an alibi, and seems hurt when he says, “If a man is going to be persecuted by someone, he ought at least to have the sense to stay away from her,” and stalks off. She apparently agrees that George killed Claire, but does not dwell at all on that question, rather insisting that is going to “help” him by providing a “nurse’s alibi,” which means she is going to testify to the fact that she thinks George is a “borderline disturbed personality,” possibly schizophrenic. She wants to testify on George’s behalf, she tells her fiancé Dr. Tim Weaver, because “nobody else knows what I know about George Hewlett,” and she is willing to break off her engagement with Tim over it. So although she will make considerable personal sacrifices to tell the world one thing she believes about George, she simultaneously buries her other suspicion, barely even admitting it to herself, that he is attempting to kill her.

Tim is opposed to her testifying because he is concerned that the attorneys will attempt to destroy her character and try to convince the jury that she is in love with George. As her fiancé, this will damage his reputation as well. Most of the book details their quarrels, his dates with “number one belle of New England” Mandy Burr, and Kate’s dates with reporter Dave Warren, with an interlude in which she stars in a play about a group of young women in 1910 seeking admission to the then-all-male university. There’s the trial in the end, of course, when all is revealed, and the engagement in the end, when all the difficulties are swept under the rug, but you knew that would happen.

The pop psychology in this book quickly becomes annoying. When George tells Kate that she is “persecuting” him, she starts with the psychoanalysis: “This was something that was definitely tied up with emotional instability. … Had George ever suffered from a persecution mania before?” Does use of the word on one occasion make for a “mania”? George’s mother is living in a sanitarium for the mentally disturbed, and Kate reasons that “her highly nervous condition might have been the cause of her son’s instability, and [George’s father] Jim Hewlett, unwilling to recognize the signs of emotional disturbance as an inherited trait, would be all the more belligerent toward anyone who suspected trouble.”

There is also a curious dichotomy about sexism. Kate and Tim get into an argument prompted by Kate’s horror at how constricted women’s lives were in 1910, when their roles were limited only to “making a man’s life ‘easy and agreeable,’ educating the young and taking care of those who were sick.” However, the other vintage nurse romance novels of the 1960s I have read suggest not a widely different role for women even at that “modern” era. Kate also mentions that in 1910 women teachers “had to work for half of what men were paid,” but in 1960, women were earning only 59¢ for each dollar earned by a man (
Getting Even, by Evelyn Murphy, ©2006). So it’s not clear to me that Kate is all that better off than the character she was playing. Especially when her fiancé starts arguing that “there was no use saying women were better off because they could earn their own living. In many cases, this simply meant they supported members of the family, or an indolent husband. They had actually been better off under the old system of being cared for and attending to their household chores.” Kate, the ninny, responds to this by bringing up wife beating, totally missing the point that women are human beings, not possessions, with the same right to choose their own destiny as men.

It should not come as a great surprise that at the end of the book Kate agrees to marry Tim, despite what she has called “the great differences in their points of view on almost everything.” “You won’t let me be myself, and I can be no one else,” she tells him when she breaks up with him. Yet at the end of the book, when she brings up the fact that they don’t “see eye to eye on many subjects,” he answers, “You don’t want a yes-man for a husband,” and tells her that he likes green hair and green eyes like hers more than black hair and brown eyes like Mandy’s. If you’re as dumb as Kate Saunders, R.N., a person’s coloring is just as good a foundation for a life-long relationship as any other. And it shouldn’t be too hard to get used to being considered chattel.