Confessions of a Psychiatrist (1954)

Today people are so eager to talk about their stints in therapy that it seems almost impossible to believe a time existed when there was still some stigma attached to being an emotional hot mess.  But as the particularly lurid pulp cover from Confessions of a Psychiatrist (1954) suggests, lying on a couch and telling a relative stranger your innermost secrets, fears, and desires once occupied a gray area somewhere between sexual seduction and mental rape. "Every boudoir was his office. Every patient his plaything."  The art is very clear about this: Is this psychiatrist reaching for this woman's "mind" or her va-jay-jay, and which will he analyze first?

As this title predates the more explicit pulps of the early 1960s, this particular psychiatrist's "confessions" are actually rather tame; in fact, the novel often reads more as a naturalistic "slice-of-life" tale about a struggling young professional than as a steamy potboiler about perversions and depravity.  And yet, the plot of Confessions is so profoundly weird and improbable, so ostentatiously Oedipal, that it is impossible not to suspect the entire thing is a big joke at the expense of psychiatric culture.  Both convoluted and coincidental, the book's plot really must be approached algebraically to make any sense:

Theodore Highsmith (*) is our 34 year-old "confessing" psychiatrist/narrator.  Just finished with his residency, Ted (*) is struggling to establish his own psychiatric practice in Chicago's loop.  For now he lives with his 23 year-old wife Beth (#) in the lakefront Evanston mansion of his widowed father-in-law, P.F.($)

Ted (*) has two principle patients: 1). Barbara Morrow (^)-- a sexy looker who is in distress after ending her relationship with a local mobster; and 2). Thomas Moore (%)-- a 27 year-old graduate of Northwestern who remains, despite his best efforts, a frustrated virgin.

Ted (*) doesn't like living on his father-in-law's dime and wants to get his practice up and running so he and Beth (#) can move out and get a place of their own.  Plus, Beth (#) seems increasingly restless, but Ted (*) thinks it's nothing that can't be cured by "putting an 8 lb. baby inside her," which he also hopes to accomplish as soon as circumstances allow.

But one day Ted (*) comes home and discovers that his impressionable young wife has decided to take up yoga.  This new pursuit comes with an unforeseen complication: "You aren't supposed to sleep with anyone who isn't a yogi until you reach your Overself," says Beth (#), adding this process of self-discovery could take months or even years.  So, unless he's willing to take up yoga, Ted (*) must now come home everyday to see his newlywed wife nude on the bed in the lotus-position--and yet he must not touch her!  

Things get worse the next day when he finds out that his the father-in-law, P.F. ($), has decided to take up yoga as well.  So now when Ted (*) comes home at the end of a long day of head-shrinking, his naked wife (#) can be found meditating on the bed with her nearly naked father ($).  It is truly one of the most perverse articulations of the Oedipal triangle you could ever hope to encounter.  She's still mine, buddy, and you're going to have to kill me to get her!  The scenario is thus:

                                                          ($) <<<<<>>>>> (#)

                                                                         (*) :-(

But it does at least give Ted (*) an excellent excuse to begin fantasizing about seducing his older, less squirrel-brained patient, Barbara Morrow (^).

In the meantime, Wildcat virgin Thomas (%) wanders into the picture.  He talks about the time he almost lost his virginity with a stripper named Miss La Rue (@), but in the end she "slipped him a mickey" and rolled him for his wallet.  He is so despondent at still being a virgin that he is almost suicidal.  Ted (*) decides it is crucial to get Thomas (%) laid by any means possible.  Thomas (%) is grateful and leaves the office energized by his new quest to be more aggressive in meeting women.  And here is how the chapter ends, word for word:

     "Oh, by the way," he said as he was leaving, "I'm a yogi. I forgot to tell you that but I guess it can wait until next time."
     What had I done, I asked myself when I went back to my desk, to deserve two yogis.

Now, this is some spectacularly bad writing: a "casual" remark so glaring in its obvious implication that you'd think it couldn't possibly survive even a cursory rewrite. But this was the age of of the typewriter, after all, and perhaps author Henry Lewis Nixon thought, "hell, I'm halfway through.  Do I really want to retype a more subtle hint here?  Screw it."

Sure enough, Thomas (%) returns a week later to say he met this really cute girl in Evanston in the Yoga section of a bookstore (!!!).  They have a date set for the weekend and Thomas (%) really hopes he will finally succeed in losing his accursed virginity.  Surely, the reader thinks, Ted (*) knows this yogic Evanston girl is none other than his wife...but no, instead he tells young Thomas (%) to go for it, the full Kundalini!  He's not even suspicious when he gets home and his wife (#) is acting weirder than usual.  But on the positive side, at least P.F. ($) seems to have a new dating prospect on the line, so he's beginning to lose interest in yoga and hanging out nekkid with his daughter all day.

Lo and behold, Barbara (^) comes in for her next session to say she just met a new guy--he's a bit older but really rich and treats her swell.  You can tell she likes Ted (*) better, but as that probably has no future, she's obviously looking for some security from a "father figure."  And that man turns out to be.....P.F ($).  Yes, author Lewis treats his story like the Native Americans treated the buffalo--nothing can go to waste, every character must have some connection to every other character, no matter how improbable.   So now we have a second Oedipal triangle.

                                                            ($) <<<<<>>>>> (^)

                                                                         (*) :-(

Hey, guess what?  Thomas (%) is back from his big date.  He tells Ted (*) he and the girl did a few yoga moves and then made out hot and heavy for awhile.  But she put the brakes on and they never made it to the bedroom.  Now Thomas (%) is scheming to give the girl "Spanish Fly" so she'll go all the way next time.  He asks Ted (*) if that would be ethical, and Ted (*) decides, "sure, in your case it would be" (the kid is a 27 year-old virgin, after all, so that apparently constitutes enough of a crisis to break out the strychnine).  And still Ted (*) remains clueless.

But that night Ted (*) has a big fight with Beth (#).  Turns out even though she said she wouldn't sleep with him until she achieved her yogic "Overself," she's mad that he doesn't at least try to seduce her (women...go figure!).  And then she lets it drop that she met this guy in the "yoga section of the bookstore" who really, really wants to explore her chakras.  Finally old fumblin' Freud figures it all out--he just gave his blessing to Thomas (%)  to give his wife Spanish Fly and not take 'no' for an answer.  And there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about it.

Luckily, when Thomas (%) returns for his session in a couple of days, he proves again that he is not one of Northwestern's brightest.  He dosed her with the fly alright, but then got so drunk himself that he passed out!  The sacred vows of marriage have not been broken.  There's still hope for Ted (*) and Beth (#) if those crazy kids can just find a way to work it all out.

Things get a little crazy from here.  Ted (*) meets Barbara (^) by chance in a bar.  If only Thomas (%) could lose his virginity before seducing Beth (#), then he would lose interest and move on.  It's not like he's in love with her or anything, the kid just needs a "notch on his belt."  But what are the odds some woman is just going to come up and sleep with this little twerp (%) before his next date with Beth (#)?  Hey, I've got an idea, says Ted (*), how about you sleep with him, Barbara (^)?  Take that P.F. ($) you patriarchal cock-blocker x 2!  Barbara's (^) response: "Eh, why not, sure, I'll do it." Thomas (%) sounds kind of young and cute and she is just about to marry an old fart ($) in the suburbs--this could be her last fling, she reasons.

But then Ted (*) begins to have qualms of conscience over the whole set-up. P.F. ($) is his wife's (#) father after all.  Maybe it would be a dirty trick to have one patient (^) seduce another patient (%) so that patient (%) won't seduce his wife (#) with that first patient (^) being engaged to his father-in-law ($).  He decides the solution is to pay a visit to Miss La Rue (@) (remember her, the stripper who rolled Thomas (%) about 150 pages ago?).  Ted (*) tells her the whole sob story about the kid (%) being a virgin and all, and that he's about to seduce his wife (#), and it's not like Miss La Rue (@) is a still a virgin herself or, he could always go to the police and tell them about the "mickey" scheme she's been playing on young dumb kids from Northwestern.  Alright, she says, I'll do it.  I'll think of some reason to see him again and then seduce him.

Having spent the night getting drunk with a stripper, Ted (*) goes home and has a big fight with Beth (#) that culminates in some wild make-up sex.  Then she put her lips close to my ear and said, "I think I got pregnant that time."  Strangely enough, this will prove to be true.  Marriage saved.  Book pretty much over.

So what happens to Thomas (%)?  "The damnedest thing," he says in his final shrink session.  A woman arrived at Thomas' (%) door and said she remembered him from his football playing days at Northwestern and couldn't get him out of her mind.  Virgin no more!  Ted (*) smiles to himself that his little plan with Miss La Rue (@) worked so well.  But wait.  Not an hour later, another woman shows up at junior's door.  "It was that Miss La Rue who stole my money," says Thomas (%).  Miss La Rue (@) tells Thomas (%) she felt so bad about slipping him the mickey and all that, and she wants to make it up to him.  Now he's even less a virgin!

So who was the first woman?  Oh shit, Ted (*) forgot to tell Barbara (^) the plan was off!  Hilarious!  And even though Ted (*) claimed to feel guilt over old P.F. ($) getting cuckolded by his fiancee (^), it would appear the unconscious wants what the unconscious wants.

Let's review the final equations:

                                            (%) + (^) + (@) - (#)  =  (*) + (#) + (8 lb. baby)

                                            ($) + (^) - (#)  =  (*) + (#) - (^)
So there you have it.  I've read it so you don't have to.  You're welcome.

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