by M. J. Rose
Published by Piatkus Books
Genre: adult literature
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes
If you are trapped in a staid, sexless marriage, how do you cope? How do you adapt? What if you don’t realize how staid and sexless it is until your eyes are opened by fate’s whimsy?
Julia Sterling has a fairly content marriage to her psychiatrist husband Paul. She is stepmother to his college freshman son, hostess at his fundraising parties, and provides him with the comfort he needs … outside of the bedroom. They rarely, if ever, have sex, something Paul does not appear to miss (he takes that in hand, so to speak). While Julia would like more intimacy, she convinces herself that she is if not happy, then at least comfortable.
At a dinner party one night, she meets Sam Butterfield, director of the eponymous Institute that specializes in sex therapy. One of the treatments offered patients is phone sex. When Sam asks Julia if she would like to write a book detailing the efficacy of phone sex, she agrees, much to Paul’s disapproval. Paul attempts to psychoanalyze her out of this decision, just as he attempts to psychoanalyze her throughout their relationship. But Julia is determined, so determined that she begins working as a phone sex operator so that she will understand what the job entails.
Further complicating Julia’s marriage is her longstanding friendship with Jack, a man she met in college. Julia suffered a breakdown in school, and Jack found and took care of her. They are attracted to each other, but have not allowed that attraction to destroy their friendship. As Julia immerses herself in phone sex, Jack’s reaction surprises her. In fact, Jack himself begins to surprise her.
Julia’s reactions, you see, are quite intense. Sometimes during a call, she pleasures herself physically while pleasuring her client vocally. The loss of sex in her marriage begins to eclipse what she and Paul do share, and his increasing attention to her in a doctor-patient sense frustrates her, as do his attempts to minimize her feelings. ‘Sterling’ is a good name for these people; in Paul’s case, the sterling is tarnished and warped, while in Julia’s, a true reflection begins to form.
Some intrigue is introduced relating to one of Julia’s clients, and Jack comes to town to visit her. She is forced to confront what she has missed seeing reflected back at her, both professionally and personally.
This is a fantastic, taut book that will keep you turning the pages. You may not always like Julia – she certainly can cause her own problems to some degree – but you do want what’s best for her. Despite being about phone sex, there is not much actual sex in this book. What little appears is fairly tame, although the language is graphic. I read somewhere that this book has been compared to Fear of Flying and the Fifth Shades series. Comparisons to the former insult Erica Jong, while comparisons to the latter insult M. J. Rose. Lip Service is neither. Rather, it is an interesting look into the dynamics of marriage and friendship. The phone sex is just a means toward that end.