Saturday, November 26, 2016

Factory Nurse

By Hilary Neal, ©1961
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik

Brigid didn’t really want to give up hospital nursing to work in a factory, but her father had a particular reason for wishing her to. Robert Bairnsdale, on the other hand, hoped she would give up nursing altogether and marry him. Only Morley Scott was completely undemanding, wanting only the right to love her. If only Brigid would make up her mind how she felt about him! Perhaps, she felt, getting away from the hospital would help her to sort things out. But when she met Guy Wisden, the immensely attractive factory manager, it looked as if she had only exchanged one set of complications for another.

GRADE: A-

BEST QUOTES:
“Marriage was the last resort of the inept.”

“All experience being valuable, as my grandmother constantly reminds me. Usually when she wants a fire lit, or some such chore, I may say.”

“What men call feminine intuition is really an extremely rapid reasoning process. Men won’t admit that women can indulge in such swift logic, so they label it intuition, and tell themselves it’s a kind of magic. They don’t mind being beaten by magic, but they can’t bear to have women beating them at their own logical game.”

REVIEW:
You should not be surprised to learn that as this book opens, Brigid Flinders is leaving her post at the hospital to go work in a factory. The factory in question is owned by her father, but this is to be one of many secrets in this book: The factory has been making parts for a top secret government contract to build space vehicles, but for some reason the parts are all having to be scrapped for poor quality, too great a coincidence, and Brigid’s aging father suspects sabotage and asks her to go snoop around on site to see if she can figure out what’s going on. In addition to her job, Brigid is also leaving behind a few young men, of course: Dr. Morley Scott, who has been sweet on her for several years and who is constantly rubbing her arm but has never declared himself; and Robert Bairnsdale, a wealthy businessman whose father is her father’s partner and who never has time for her, but constantly pressures her to marry him.

Why stop at two young men when you can have three? Brigid is soon entwined with the factory manager, Guy Wisden, who lives downstairs from her. He starts out with a hard mouth, cold eyes, and a rude manner, but she soon tells him off. He takes this surprisingly well and they part with an “electric” handshake. Before long he’s kissing her; it’s actually a well-written passage that’s not at all hokey and simply evokes her passion.

As the mystery of who is sabotaging the plant’s production escalates, someone breaks into Brigid’s flat and Guy’s cat is murdered. Then Brigid’s father dies unexpectedly, and in a confusing bit of business, there is some buying and selling of the factory’s stock in a takeover bid that’s intended to depress the value of the factory so it can be acquired by a secret buyer, all of which was rather difficult to follow. There are several more attempts to injure Brigid, even kill her with cyanide-laced salmon, and Brigid and one of her friends at the factory figure out how the sabotage is occurring, but not quite who’s behind it. In the midst of all this, Guy runs hot and cold, Morley visits with middling success, and Robert becomes increasingly domineering as he tries to run Brigid’s business interests for her, now that her father has died. 

Really, there’s an awful lot of plot here in 191 pages, more than in most VNRNs, and apart from the confusing business machinations, it’s largely managed with skill. The writing is clever in places, with well-drawn characters, and Brigid is a feisty gal who does her best to tell off Robert and his meddling family; the fact that it takes her several tries to put the message across strikes me as more realistic than irritating. The ending has a rather sexist twist involving Brigid’s inheritance, but the book is in fact 55 years old, so that can be forgiven. Factory Nurse is unusual in that the author clearly put a lot of effort into it, and fortunately for us readers, she has the chops to pull of an ambitious story that’s as action-packed as it is sweet.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Nurse Gina

By Joanne Holden, ©1963

“This is a wonderful piece of writing!” Ripley Crawford hugged Nurse Gina. “Your father would be proud of you, honey, and I am, too!” Gina’s father had been a famous writer and she, too, felt the need to create. But her duties at Butler Pavilion and her devotion to Doctor Alex had kept her from taking her writing too seriously before. Now she had a chance to write professionally. Could she leave her nursing and Alex for the glamour of the TV world?

GRADE: C-

BEST QUOTES:
“I don’t hire them unless they look good enough to get married right away.”

“The TV world is one of hypertension.”

“Oh, oh, oh! I’ve got an awful pain, Nurse. Will you hold my hand?”

“I hope I don’t have to work in there—they don’t put any clothes on the patients.”

“Mary Lou, I am really delighted with the formation of the protective eschar on your cheek.”

REVIEW:
Some books are just like nails on a chalkboard, and this, I am sorry to report, is just such a one. Nurse Gina is a sanctimonious pain who starts off the book in the most unusual fashion by proving herself to be a bitch: When she meets her patient Ripley Crawford, a movie star with a broken leg, he showers her with the usual compliments, to wit, “You don’t need to take my temperature. It just went up six points.” So she is furious to find that in fact his temperature—his pulse, too!—are completely normal!! Her outrage mounts as she learns that he broke his leg in a charity golf tournament, and she deliberately drops a vase of flowers that he has asked her to remove from the room. Called on the carpet by Dr. Alex Simmons, who has recommended her to the post, she is unrepentantly rude. When the doctor tells her that he was thinking of her secret desire to be a writer, and that Rip is looking for just such a being for his TV show, she humbles herself enough to send a phony letter of apology to Rip, which he accepts.

Rip takes her out and listens to her proposal for a documentary-like series following nurses through all the major wars of the last few centuries, and though it sounds like a complete bore, he inexplicably goes for it. He hires her to write the show, which involves tape recording conversations so as to use them for inspiration in her writing. I expected this pitiful gimmick to lead somewhere, like to an overheard secret, but no, it just means Gina goes to a lot of parties lugging a giant box around and doing a lot of transcribing afterward. This peculiar duty does not take up so much of her time, however, as to prevent her from helping out when one of the party guests contemplates suicide: After he tells her straight out he is going to kill himself, she compassionately replies, “I don’t think you ought to spoil the party. Linda went to a great deal of trouble planning it. She might be annoyed with you.” When he nevertheless gives it a shot, literally, Gina overturns a table onto him so the bullet only grazes a temple. Another meaningless plot twist, we soon find that the victim’s wife is pregnant and now he is blissfully happy.

Now that she’s a writer, Gina spends a lot of time typing. Rip stops by to kiss her now and then, though the most we learn about her feelings toward this potential sexual harassment are that she “accepted his kiss without emotion” and spends a lot of time darting out of his arms. More pointless scenes occur, such as the one in which Gina is photographed tending to Rip at a nightclub after he’s punched out, or when she visits the campus where her deceased father was a famous psychology professor, only to find that his textbook is considered out of date. She’s bawling on the quad when Rip turns up to tell her that his schmoozing of TV executives has paid off and they have a meeting to pitch their series to a major TV network. At the meeting, Gina is heckled by the assembled old men, and she snaps back, “I did not expect to find, in a business office, the childish viciousness that I have met in this room today.” Cowed, the execs sign the show and plan to start casting next week. I’m sure that’s how it happens in Hollywood all the time.

Out of the blue, Gina decides she’s in love with Rip. For his part, he’s about to propose when a ship in the East River blows up and Gina hurries off to the hospital. Two weeks later, she takes an afternoon off from the burn unit and drops by Rip’s office, where she puts off his attempts to propose, telling him that their worlds are too far apart, and besides, she’d rather be a nurse than a writer. He responds that she should keep being a nurse, if that’s what she wants to do, but she turns him down nonetheless. Then at the hospital Christmas party, we are treated to the lyrics of no less than seven carols before Dr. Alex, who has been a virtual ghost through most of the book, pops up to exchange some truly nauseating dialogue with Gina and bring the book to a close.


There is just too much wrong with this book. Gina’s behavior is often sanctimonious and annoying, and the TV series that we spend so much time watching her develop from a number of different angles comes across as just dull. I did not understand her choices, either to try writing in the beginning of the book or to give it up at the end. Gina’s decisions in regard to her men is no less bewildering: Her relationships with her two main men, Rip and Dr. Alex, are either nonexistent or shallow, and her alleged feelings of love toward them are inexplicable. I really did not care what happened to her TV show or her career, to say nothing of which man she decided to marry. Nurse Gina, the book and the character, are not worth your time.