cover image Lip Service

Lip Service

M. J. Rose / Author Lady Chatterley's Library $12.95 (285p) IS

Pocket Books acquired this self-published novel (under the pseudonymous Rose's own imprint, Lady Chatterley's Library) after her Web site and Internet marketing blitz landed it on readers' radar screens. Featuring a New York City housewife who turns to phone sex as an exercise in liberation, it garners attention more for its subject matter than for the quality of its execution. Julia Sterling, the daughter of a prominent psychiatrist, is married to Paul, one of her father's prot g s, who has functioned as her therapist and jailer for the past 20 years, plying her with tranquilizers on the pretext of a brief breakdown Julia suffered in college, and settling every disagreement by reminding Julia of her weakened state. Having left private practice to head New York's ""charity of the moment,"" celibate, controlling Paul needs not a wife but a hostess for his fund-raising ventures. Julia spends her daytime hours raising orchids, those seemingly fragile but determinedly hardy plants, and frets that the sunlight is being gradually reduced by a building being erected across the way from her apartment. Her beloved stepson has just left for Princeton, and in her newfound free time, she trains as a journalist (""just as inquisitive a field [as psychiatry], but less introspective"") and is given the opportunity to collaborate on a book with Sam Butterfield, an important donor to Paul's organization. The proposed book purports to examine the alternate form of therapy prescribed for the inmates of Sam's Butterfield Institute--namely, phone sex. Julia trains and works as an operator and finally breaks free of all her external and internal restraints. Many of her ""conversations"" are recorded here. She adopts the pseudonym ""Alice,"" and indeed goes right down that rabbit hole--with the symbolism, like all else, duly spelled out. Empowerment may be Rose's theme, but titillation plays no small part in this novel's game. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club featured alternate. (Sept.) FYI: The author used skills from her career in advertising (under her own name, Melisse Shapiro) to test-market and sell her book.