AAR was asked to review Lip Service because it’s being touted as a “sophisticated love story,” among other things. Due to the subject matter – explicit phone sex – most of our reviewers, including myself, were somewhat apprehensive about reading it. I like a little love and a lot of caring (along with a hot love scene or two) in a romance novel. Could a book that deals with tawdry phone sex be a romance? Wouldn’t this be just a string of “pornographic” scenes linked loosely together with what might laughingly pass as some kind of plot?
Well, I chose to take the book on because I’ve often defended romance novels to the scoffing uninitiated who have called this genre “simply an excuse to pedal soft-core porn.” Is there a difference, I asked myself, between a really hot love scene in a romance novel, and a book that is expressly written as erotica?
Frankly, it was the cover blurb that put me off. “At once a sophisticated love story and a psychological thriller, Lip Service is both seductive and sinister. M.J. Rose has crafted an uninhibited narrative that builds to a shocking crescendo … When a writing job exposes Julia Sterling to phone sex, she glimpses a world that stirs her erotic fantasies but threatens her carefully constructed reality … As she probes her emotional and sexual connections to the men she knows and several she will never meet, she confronts evil, perversity and her own passions.” After that build-up, I didn’t know what to expect! Knowing how some forms of erotica can get sick and ugly (and I didn’t want those scenes anywhere near my brain), it was with great trepidation that I opened the cover of Lip Service and began to read.
In a nutshell, emotionally fragile New York writer Julia Sterling is lonely. She’s married to a brilliant, successful, handsome, sophisticated man firmly planted in the limelight, who subtly and overtly tries to control Julia’s every move, for her “own good.” Asked by family friend, and sexuality research institute founder, Sam Butterfield, to author a book on human sexuality, Paul Sterling advises his wife against it; Julia decides it might be just what she needs to give her life some, well, life. When Julia discovers that the solution to many individuals’ sexual problems is theraputic phone sex, Julia asks Sam if she can become a “therapist” in order to discover, first-hand (no pun intended), how the process works (all in the name of serious and devout research).
Julia has a long-time friend, Jack, a powerful attorney who lives in Florida, whom Julia met in college when she was sleeping with his roommate. Julia and Jack became platonic friends (only because Jack refused to sleep with Julia when she tried countless times to seduce him), and their friendship has lasted lo, these many years, even though each has married (unhappily, as it turns out).
Basically, Lip Service is Julia’s story. Who is she? Whom does she wish to be? Why is she were she is now? How can she change her life? Does she even want to change her life? The men in Julia’s life are extraneous, for the most part, and simply reflect different facets of Julia’s personality by demonstrating the way in which she intereacts with them.
Lip Service is well written, and if you’re at all curious about how phone sex “therapists” do their thing, this will show you. It purports to be a “successful examination of the relationship between sexuality and identity.” Yeah, well, I’d say that’s stretching it a bit. To seriously follow Julia’s (really boring) story in this book is tantamount to insisting you read Playboy for the excellent, insightful, entertaining articles. Right.
While there are virtually no love scenes in this book, the phone sex is erotic. Instead of his arousal, the apex of her thighs, make love to me, you have the ultra-frank, erotic-speak you might expect. If this puts you off, avoid Lip Service. There are not as many “phone sessions” as you might expect, and they stay within the confines of the norm. Julia has one customer who appears to be going off the deep end, and I was certain I was in for some ugly stuff, but things didn’t go where I had expected them to go, much to my relief.
Is a romance novel? No, but it’s not as far from it as it might have been. I simply did not care about Julia, nor her whiny little life. I wanted more, much more, of Jack. Is there the requisite happily-ever-after? Yeah, I’d say so. All-in-all, Lip Service was not as good as the hype, and not as bad as I’d feared it would be. If you’re looking for what it has to offer, you may find yourself well satisfied.