Book of the Week: Sweet Talkin’ Lover by Tracey Livesay

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I had been waiting to read Sweet Talkin’ Lover by Tracey Livesay for months. The minute I heard about it, I had earmarked it for reading in my spreadsheet. And it was worth the wait.

Caila Harris is a big city girl and enjoys the vibrancy of life in Chicago. She is the regional marketing manager at Endurance Cosmetics, the fastest growing manufacturer and marketer in the beauty industry. She is toeing the line these days because she is very close to getting the job  she has always wanted at Endurance. She is content with her life otherwise and is not looking to get involved with a man, especially one who she will need to babysit because he won’t be able to handle her busy life.

Her childhood had been divided into two distinct parts because of the death of her father: one, as a successful girl in Baltimore, and the other, as a lonely, dispossessed girl in rural Maryland. As a result, her relationship with her grandfather was fraught with undercurrents of unexplored emotions. She disliked him for causing a sea-change in her life and at the same time, she loved him, while feeling every emotion in between. These conflicting feelings came up even more after his recent death, which she hasn’t been able to fully process, and it is affecting her work.  

After one thoughtless night fueled by alcohol, Caila’s career is on the line, and she has been dispatched to the rural South for a project usually assigned to junior employees. She is angry, but her hands are tied.

Wyatt Asher Bradley IV is the mayor of the small town of Bradleton. In his public life, he exudes good cheer and bonhomie, always ready to step in to mediate and lend a helping hand in his town. In his secretive private life, he is a wood carver. Working with wood to him is almost meditative. He does not share his creations with anyone other than his one friend, and certainly not with his mother or grandfather. They would consider his hobby a stain on their family’s escutcheon and not befitting their station as the first family in town.  

Chro-Make, a co-packer for the cosmetic company Flair which Endurance is taking over, is the main employer of Bradleton — fully, a third of the town’s populace is employed there. Now Caila is in town to evaluate Chro-Make and decide whether it needs to be shutdown. This would send Bradleton into decline and has brought with it a lot of worry and resentment from the townspeople against Caila. As the mayor, it is Wyatt’s job to appease Caila into seeing the human element associated with the company and influence her to make a compassionate decision. However, Caila wants to remain aloof and uninvolved so she can make an unbiased decision.

Clouding both their judgments is the insane desire they have for each other. What decisions will they both make?

One thing Caila learned early on in life is that relying on others is a sure path to disappointment, and as a result, she is fiercely independent. It takes her a long time and considerable effort to trust Wyatt and to know that relying on him is okay because he is not going to let her down. To Wyatt, who is used to having the whole town relying on him, having someone not trusting his word or shying away from depending on him is a new experience. It is initially puzzling and exasperating. For the first time, winning someone over is taking effort and sensitivity, and he is unused to it. I liked how Livesay shows him growing into role of equality with a partner.

Who you are is directly influenced by the cohort you keep, and Caila’s group of cherished friends dates back to her university days. Despite their successful careers and glamorous lives, the women have stayed closely in touch. Caila treasures their friendship just as much as she relies on them to be the mainstay of her life. I enjoyed watching the women drift in and out of Caila’s story. (Do read Livesay’s author notes on how she drew on her own similar friend circle to showcase Caila’s friends.)

It was good to see Livesay address the issue head-on of how black women in the corporate world have to be so many times better as compared with their white compatriots in order to succeed. Even one slip, despite an unblemished record, can be grounds for ostracization. And the efforts needed to get back into the good graces of the bosses are tremendous.

A personal aside: Caila’s speech about football and the dangers to young men’s health is something that I have been banging on about at our school for the past three years now, so it created an instant bond with Caila for me.

This is Livesay’s first book in the Girls’ Trip series, and I look forward to reading the next one.

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