Shame on you! I know you only wanted to read this because you thought it was going to be filled with pornographic descriptions of a steamy night entwined in sheets. Filthy minds think alike, after all. It was undoubtedly for that very reason this book was placed in a brightly colored bag and given to me for Christmas. I'm happy to say I came away with a much better story flowing through my mind than a poorly written Harlequin would have left me with.

I hate the word salivating. It makes me think of salamanders, which make me think of tongues, which I don't like to think about. It's odd having this slab of meat in your mouth.
Thoughts While Having Sex is Stephanie Lehmann's first book, though she has written five plays that were "produced Off Off Broadway and even farther off Broadway." The novel, written in first person, tells the story of playwright Jennifer Ward and her struggle to come to terms with her play and it's relationship with her sister's death. More than that it's about being comfortable in your skin, being free to express yourself and not being everyone's doormat.
As I snuggled under my covers, I told myself I didn't want to look over my play, I didn't want to think about, I wished it didn't exist. Just wanted to fall into a deep sleep far away from thoughts and feelings because other people...other people...they always let you down.
To say that I related to this character is an understatement. I was drawn into the story by page forty-six but it didn't hit me until later how much I related to her. How I understood her frustrations, her feelings of guilt, her inability to speak up for herself when the situation demanded it. In the character's case she'd played second fiddle to a mentally disturbed older sister. Her parent's spent their energies pacifying her, which left Jennifer to fend for herself. Even her entrance into womanhood was overshadowed by her sister, a mild childhood trauma compacted with a much larger more adult one.

Years later, when she moves to the same city as her sister, her parent's expect her to act as a surrogate mother, not a younger sibling striking out on her own. Her mother hounds her, forcing her into a situation that leaves Jennifer traumatized forever, with an unending well of guilt to draw on. Then they don't even have the courtesy to soothe her, comfort her during her pain, they are so selfishly lost in their own.

No kiss...not before then or since then...has affected me quite the way that one did.
Jennifer's guilt at living while her sister is dead, her feelings of unease that she was the cause of her sister's suicide, comes through in more than her very autobiographical play Till Death Do Us Part. She feels so unworthy of life that she allows herself no pleasures and very little happiness. Her sexuality has been stunted; she's unable to submit to pleasures without the ghost of her sister accusing her of daring to live while she is dead. At twenty-five, Jennifer is about as sexually secure as a fifteen year old. And her relationships to people, especially romantic relationships, suffer for this extreme guilt. It is through the trials of producing the play that she learns to deal with her anxiety, learns that just because her sister is dead it doesn't mean she has to be too.

Anyone who has had a relationship with a taker will relate to Jennifer's character. For those of you who haven't, a taker is someone who demands all of your attention without giving any in return. They are people who will turn any situation around until it is about them. You have to go to work right now? Well that must mean they aren't special to you, you don't give a damn or you'd be five minutes late on your first day. In bed these people are there for themselves. They get their pleasure without thinking of yours. They may even ask you to do things that they know you don't want to, nagging until you finally give in. A taker leaves you emotionally drained until, like Jennifer, you can no longer deal with it all and just want to curl in bed and sleep it all away.

When you've been in a relationship of whatever kind, be it a friendship, a family member or a romance, with a taker standing up for yourself is not always easy. If you're timid, like Jennifer, all you want to do is pacify these people, keep the unpleasantness at bay. Anything to keep from having their anger focused on you. When you finally snap and say what's been building in your head all those months, years, can be a wonderfully therapeutic thing. Standing up for yourself is hard to do but it's something that everyone has to learn how to do. Even Jennifer.

Thoughts While Having Sex, Stephanie Lehmann, Kensington Publishing Corp. Copyright 2003.

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