"Bellehaven" by Margaret Hawke is an enjoyable novel set in 1960s America. The book drops us directly into the life of Kate Bannion, a homemaker, wife and mother who had previously set aside her career as a nurse but is forced by circumstance to once again don her nursing cap and find work to support her family at a time when women breadwinners are a new phenomenon. Kate faces many challenges at home and on the job, and the novel moves easily along the trajectory of Kate's life, marriage, and professional development.
For those interested in the changes that have occurred---and continue to occur---in terms of women's roles as professionals in our society, this book offers insights into the struggles of working class women in the mid-1960s, especially working class or so-called "pink collar" workers who did not live in progressive urban areas like New York or San Fransisco.
Kate Bannion, the protagonist of "Bellehaven", lives in a small New Jersey town and works in an isolated and decrepit nursing home deep in the Pine Barrens. Relatively cut off from the seismic cultural shifts taking place in the American landscape of the 1960s (but nonetheless aware that those shifts are taking place), Kate must struggle with her husband's reluctance for her to return to work and her mother's apparent disapproval. Meanwhile, she also grapples with the ways in which she feels she is letting her family down by not being as fully present in her role as homemaker and mother.
In the following video review, I encapsulate my reaction to "Bellehaven" in a few minutes of spoken narrative:
Margaret Hawke has created for us a sympathetic female character who embodies the contradictions and struggles of women in 1960s America. While not a work of grand literature, "Bellehaven" is a satisfyingly rich and well-written novel of special interest to nurses, and I highly recommend it for enjoyable yet thought-provoking summer reading.
Novels about nurses are few and far between, and I appreciate and am grateful to Margaret Hawke for creating a realistic historical character with whom many nurses---especially those of the female persuasion---will most definitely relate. The issues faced by Kate will not be foreign to 21st-century women, and "Bellehaven" illustrates those issues clearly, historically, and sympathetically.