Underground Reading: The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham
Underground Reading: No Down Payment by John McPartland

Underground Reading: Nurse Kathryn and Night Club Nurse

A distinctly medicinal pair of reviews with Peggy O’More’s Nurse Kathryn and Rose Dana’s Night Club Nurse.

Nurse KathrynPeggy O'More's Nurse Kathryn (1965) follows the trials and tribulations of the titular nurse as she works at the psychiatric clinic of a mid-sized town. Kathryn’s life is, for the most part, perfect. Her fiancé, Jack, is a stoic, gentle man with a solid career and huge family. Her roommate, Bibi, is a vivacious sounding board – the wacky-yin to Kathryn’s buckled-down yang. Best of all, Kathryn’s ‘new’ psychiatrist – her boss – is the delicious and perceptive Dr. Lamont. He knows how to solve all the problems, especially when aided by Kathryn’s gossip and insight. The two team up to form an unstoppable pair of judgemental psychiatric juggernauts.

Of course, it isn’t all perfect, or else Nurse Kathryn would be an even duller book that it already is. Kathryn’s by-the-numbers life has some real problems, mostly having to do with Jack. His plodding attitude with Kathryn often borders on the careless – our protagonist’s life is one of broken dates and cold meals. Jack prioritises his sprawling family first, his career second and his future bliss with Kathryn a distant third. Kathryn tries to appreciate this. She’s the child of a fairly bizarre marriage – her father being an open-handed backwoods doctor and his wife a domineering shrew. Always conscious of her mother’s harpy ways, Kathryn tries to let Jack swing his own life. As a result, she’s been “practically engaged” for a long four years, with no end in sight.

Still, her vocation (psychiatry) and avocation (passing judgement) keep her busy. Nurse Kathryn is packed to the gills with tiny case studies where Kathryn and Lamont act as judge, jury and executioner. They break up marriages, force a woman to leave town, wreck another’s employment and smugly wreak havoc on their surroundings. Although intended to be a charming romance, the book comes across as a Scientological screed.

Of course everything wraps up neatly – Dr. Lamont works his Mrs. Piggy-Wiggle ways, waves the wand of psychiatry and all the partners fall into place, including his own. The story isn’t a matter of wondering what will happen, but when. How will the faltering Jack be removed from the picture? When will Kathryn realize that Lamont is her twooo love?

Nurse Kathryn is slightly fun, in an Asimovian way, but reading about Kathryn and Lamont endlessly coming up with impressive solutions to insoluble problems gets awfully boring, especially since the book is void of any actual human conversation. Kathryn learns – through the magical mystery of psychomatriatricology – that she belongs with a man that deserves her. What she fails to realize is that this is because he’s just as dull as she is.

Night Club NurseNight Club Nurse (1965) isn’t much better. What it gains in suspense, it loses in realism – author Rose Dana paints a surreal world of feminity that stabs the world in the back with a stiletto heel. This book’s heroine, Gwen, is a nurse at New York City’s finest hospital. As well as its plebeian wards, the hospital has its luxurious Pavilion floor – reserved entirely for well-heeled VIPs. The author throws a bit of good-conscience bread to the masses early the book, pointing out that Gwen and her fiancé, Doctor Jack, do stuff for poor people. Fortunately, we never read any of it. Poor people are boring; the real excitement of Night Club Nurse takes place with the posh eccentrics.

Again, we have our titular nurse in the midst of a lengthy engagement with her calm and rugged medical man. And, again, we have temptation. In this instance, Gwen picks up a second job – nurse at a swingin’ NYC night club. The owner, foxy Tom Rapella, is a handsome man-about-town. He professes his love for Gwen the third time they meet and, undeterred by her engagement, continues to woo her (politely, if emphatically). Gwen is torn between the wacky hijinks of the club and the svelte, safely roguish Tom and her career at the hospital with her more traditional, golden boy spouse-to-be.

Unlike Nurse Kathryn, the status quo wins out in Night Club Nurse. Gwen flirts and wriggles, but when the moment of decision strikes, she sticks with the date she came with. Also unlike Nurse Kathryn, there’s no ‘bad guy’. In Nurse Kathryn, fiancé Jack becomes more and more insipid and selfish. In Night Club Nurse, fiancé Jack has many opportunities for schmuckery, but never takes them. If anything, Gwen’s the dodgy one – playing two men against one another, lying and smooching both parties. Fortunately, this isn’t a book about wounded hearts, it is a self-satisfied tract in which everyone winds up with the saccharine happiness they deserve.

Night Club Nurse is set in a bizarre-Disney version of the real world where everyone is attractive, every problem is solved as soon as someone makes a speech about it, and no one bears a grudge. It is populated by charming curmudgeons, dashing gentlemen and ditzy gossips. No children appear, but if they did, they’d undoubtedly be moppets.

While Nurse Kathryn feigns a sort of audience-alienating alienating pseudo-medical jargon, the actual nursing in Night Club Nurse is generally Gwen dabbing at someone with a cold compress while waiting for the ambulance. There’s some sort of climactic surgery (everything in Night Club Nurse is caused by some sort of ‘malignancy’), after which everyone has cotton candy and balloons. Rather, Night Club Nurse is written at a weirdly pre-adolescent level with lots of “Gwen felt happy…” and “Gwen felt sad…” and, most frequently of all, “Gwen wore…” Our wild young nurse has an extensive wardrobe, and every chapter brings with it another nylon delight.

(Gwen and her fellow nurses also engage in a ‘battle’ [such as they are] with their hospital about their right to wear high-heeled shoes. They all love spending their twelve hour shifts on their feet in painful heels and no meddling medical board will take that away from them!)

Night Club Nurse is really neither good nor bad, merely the sort of pre-digested, trite Reader’s Digest pap that fizzes in and out of the reader’s mind like the bubbles of soda pop. It is hard to work up an emotional response to the book because the book itself contains neither conflict nor challenge. It is the daily unadventures of an uninteresting candy-doll in a world that superficially resembles our own. Even as escapism, it is of the most banal (and therefore depressing) type.