Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Irving Wallace's The Celestial Bed

I picked up a copy of prolific author Irving Wallace's 1987 novel The Celestial Bed at a used bookstore for three dollars. It looked like it would be a mindless fun read, and for three bucks who can go wrong?

The Celestial Bed was great fun. Because this is one of the most pornographic books which I have read in a long time.

It's the story of Dr. Arnold Freeberg a sex therapist who seeks to cure his patients of their sexual disfunctions through the use of live sex surrogates. A sex surrogate is somebody who, under direction from the therapist, has sex with you and helps you to overcome whatever your problem is.

Irving Wallace (1916-1990)

First, Dr. Freeberg and his sex surrogate, Gayle, are run out of Arizona under the threat of prosecution for prostitution. Under assurance by his lawyer that therapy using surrogates is legal in California, Dr. Freeberg sets up shop in a suburb of Los Angeles. He gets a bunch more surrogates together including a male surrogate for the occasional female patient.

A sex crazed fundamentalist preacher gets his buddy, the politically ambitious District Attorney, to agree to arrest and prosecute Dr. Freeberg and Gayle. But first they send in Chet, a reporter suffering from pre-mature ejaculation, undercover to gather evidence. You get the idea, this a bad soap opera. It's so bad it's positively wonderful.

The Celestial Bed has just enough real information about the history and practice of sex therapy to make the reader feel like he has learned something and not feel guilty about all the titillating graphic sex. The characters are basically cartoonish caricatures. Like Tony, the owner of a chain of Italian restaurants, who launders money for the mob, and likes sex one way: fast, with none of that wimpy lovie dovie stuff. Tony's girlfriend, Nan, is frigid and seeks help from Dr. Freeberg. When Tony finds out that some other guy is banging his girl, somebody's got to die.

The Celestial Bed is definitely not great literature. For a bit of harmless raunchy amusement, however, it's good for a few laughs. It fascinated me thinking about how much the world has changed since the late '80s when this book is set. There were no cell phones, the characters have to stop at the gas station and use a pay phone, there was no fax and no internet (they have to go to the copy shop to xerox reports and then have the copies sent over by courier, how quaint!), and there was no Viagra or Cialis (they have to try to cure impotence the old fashioned way without drugs).

It reminded me how old and dated I am. I was a college undergraduate when this book came out. I wish that we could roll the world back to those times. I guess it's just natural to be nostalgic for the era in which you grew up. This old pot-boiler reminds me of those good times.

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