As stated before, Barry N. Malzberg’s Mel Johnson books (from Midwood, Oracle, and Softcover Library) are hard to find. Since I’ve been curious for a long time about Nympho Nurse, Malzberg fan Jim Mix kindly made a photocopy of the 1/3 Midwood for my eyes.
The title has been used on a dozen or more sex books over the decades, with variations like Intimate Nurse and Registered Nympho. The problem with Malzberg’s 30K words novella: there’s no nurse in it.
The female lead, Virginia, is a secretary for a Freudian psychotherapist, and nowhere near a nurse, nor a nympho but simply a sexually liberated 23-year-old woman in the 1960s. Some bright editor (or Harry Shorten himself) at Midwood sure was paying attention here.
“She works for a doctor — she must be a nurse!”
Then again: Nympho Secretary doesn’t have tbe same ring.
Insane Secretary, maybe, or Sin Therapy…
Wonder what Malzberg orginally called this…
It is, however, a wonderfully black humor novella, absurd and biting. It begins with nipples and breasts and ends with nipples and breasts, something Malzberg often focuses on in his fiction, even his SF: boobies, bosoms, bazookas, bodacious ta-tas.
He ground her nipples so hard that she felt she was breaking inisde, that some subtle part of her was burning within and was going to come apart. (p. 243)
This opening finds Virginia in bed with Harold, an ad copy writer who is also a patient of Dr. Miller’s, Virginia’s boss. There’s quite a bit of unprofessional hanky-panky going on: Virginia has slept with several of her boss’ patients, and while he has warmed her of the ethical compromise, he is also fascinated when his patients talk about her. Even if she doesn’t date them, some male patients are so striken by her sexiness in the reception area that the sessions with Miller focus on the secretary. Finally, Miller decides he has to let her go for many professional reasons — notwithstanding his own lack of ethics for letting her date patients anyway.
She has been seeing Harold for a while now and so she peeks in on his personal file and Miller’s notes. One night after sex, she accidentally lets something slip (a true Freudian slip here!) from her mouth that lets Harold know she has seen his confidential session file. Harold freaks out and leaves. In the morning, Virginia goes into work early and destroys Harold’s file.
I’m left feeling that this short novel may have been adapted from a one-act play — Malzberg was on a playwrighting fellowship at Cornell only a few years prior to writing this. Much of the action takes place in two settings: the reception area and her bedroom, perfect for a play. The dialogue an situations are absurd, at time Beckett-esque or Isben-esque. Mazberg makes delightful fun of the whacky, faltering nature of psychotherapy, something he has done in his science-fiction or other fiction, now in a “sex novel.” We realize, in the end, all three of these people are insane and need medical help, and just when things seem to be on the verge of exploding, it ends happily, with Harold and Virginia making up, strolling out as Dr. Miller hides from these crazy people. Virginia’s last thought are on how she wants to swing her breasts over Harold’s face.
Malzberg uses Midwood’s three-in-one-book format to deliver an absurd message, and perhaps that is the reason why it is called Nympho Nurse — the title in itself in an absurdity.