The Celestial Bed

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

From the beginning of his practice as a psychologist, it has been clear to Dr. Arnold Freeberg that the bulk of his patients suffer from problems with sexual relationships. Yet while he can explain the origins of the various sexual dysfunctions, as well as empathize with his patients, he is too often unable to effect a cure--until, upon investigation, he learns of a technique employing the use of sexual surrogates, carefully trained individuals, who, acting under close supervision, attempt to eliminate the dysfunction.

Unfortunately for Dr. Freeberg, his wife’s illness forces him to leave New York for Arizona--a state where sexual surrogates are considered not highly trained professionals but common prostitutes. Nevertheless, Freeberg’s desire to use what he believes are the most effective methods leads him to employ surrogates in his practice, despite statutes forbidding it. Inevitably, he runs afoul of the legal system, and he then undertakes a further migration to California -- where he is assured that the use of such techniques will not meet with any legal impediments. For financial reasons, Freeberg establishes his clinic not in one of the large urban centers, but in a smaller community north of Los Angeles. In consequence, he soon finds himself in conflict with a zealous district attorney with political ambitions, a hypocritical evangelist with dreams of television superstardom, and an aspiring reporter looking for a story that will lead to professional recognition.

Combining a fast-paced narrative with semiclinical descriptions of the techniques employed by sexual surrogates, THE CELESTIAL BED not only illuminates the ethical and moral issues surrounding their use, but lifts at least the corner of the veil of secrecy concerning the practice. Admittedly, the fictional characters presented probably bear the same relationship to the genuine articles as THE BRADY BUNCH does to the reality of life in the home, but Wallace was interested in supporting the movement and therefore presented its best face.