All that Glitters

Return to Love

Temptation by Viveca Carlysle
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-58314-185-5
Temptation is Viveca Carlysle’s fourth novel. It is the engaging story of Danita Godfrey and Stuart Lowell.

Jacob Godfrey and Frank Lowell met in Harlem in the 1920s. From their close friendship, a business partnership emerged. Jake and Frank’s, a barbershop and general store, was born. In later years, the barbershop closed and the general store became a department store. A coin flip between the two friends gave Frank top billing and the store became known as Lowell’s.

The business remained in Harlem until the 1970s when a new generation of Godfreys and Lowells expanded the business into nearly a dozen stores throughout the country. But Lowell’s NY remains the crown jewel in the chain. The head of that store automatically becomes the corporation’s CEO.

Tyler Godfrey, Lowell’s current chairman is about to announce his retirement. The current generation of family members who run Lowell’s is collectively known as “the cousins.” Unlike Jacob Godfrey and Frank Lowell, “the cousins” are a highly competitive lot who jockey for position within the family business. Two main contenders for the seat at Lowell’s NY have emerged. Either Danita Godfrey, who runs Lowell’s DC, or Stuart Lowell, who runs Lowell’s CA and the company’s Malibu boutique will become the next CEO.

When the novel begins, current CEO Tyler Godfrey has summoned his two vice-presidents to New York under the guise of helping him prepare his Sag Harbor estate for sale. The two have comfortable relationships with Tyler and it is easy to see why they have been tapped as his heirs-apparent. Their relationship with one another is not so comfortable.

They began as children who enjoyed one another’s company. They competed as siblings would. As the stakes escalated, the competition became more intense. “Both understood that having a family business was a mixed blessing. It gave them a head state in the working world, but it stopped them from ever knowing if they wanted something else.”

In addition to professional pride and challenge, Danita and Stuart each have personal reasons for wanting to run the company. Stuart’s father heads Lowell’s VA. Although Tyler Godfrey is CEO, Alan Lowell is a stern taskmaster whose annual corporate retreats are likened to bloodlettings. Not even his sons have been spared. Stuart’s ascension to CEO would be another way of seeking his father’s approval. A decade ago, Danita’s father was forced out of the company and into exile in Europe after his extramarital affair was disclosed. The Lowell’s NY spot should have been her father’s. Danita feels the seat is her legacy and her chance to redeem her family’s branch on the family tree.

The impact of the sins of the fathers on their children makes for an interesting story. But there is a downside to Temptations. The novel has several omissions and continuity flaws. There is also an instance of “fuzzy math” In this equation, the younger brother of a 56-year-old man has passed his 65th birthday and had a son killed in the Korean War. In addition, the prose and pacing are often choppy. As a result, Temptations never quite establishes its narrative rhythm.

The strengths of the novel are in its characterization and in its premise. Danita and Stuart are highly motivated executives with an innate sense of fair play. Both want to win, but not at all costs. Their actions are always consistent with the people the author has told us they are. Stuart and Danita are kindred spirits who understand the responsibilities and burdens of being involved in the family business. While the chemistry between them is passionate, both have come too far to retreat. Stuart and Danita never take their eyes of the prize. They realistically examine the impact of their growing relationship on their careers and vice versa. Within this framework, the author has created lead characters who are driven, but who are also human. In keeping with their characters, they are much too busy to play games and don’t.

The premise of this family-owned business drew me in. Viveca Carlysle has created a wealth of secondary characters I wanted to know more about. The cousins are ambitious and fiercely protective of their legacy. Temptations suggests several stories in which - like Danita and Stuart - relationships have been impacted by their positions within the company. I would love to know more about the lives of Syke Godfrey Sylvester and Dax Lowell. There are family secrets to be sure and I would also want to know more about the Tyler Godfrey and Alan Lowell, the titular heads of both families.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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