Heat Factor: The whole middle of the book is pretty much sex.
Character Chemistry: feelings are annoying
Plot: The new White House Press Secretary worked with the president once many years ago. This time he’s not about to let her get away.
Overall: I was put off by the way the president was initially represented (it’s single POV from Clover), and that kind of snowballed with other things as I continued to read
I picked up Figure of Speech because for some reason I’m on a president/staffer romance kick (it started with a Secret Service romance and I have no regrets), and there aren’t that many such offerings, so I was immediately intrigued by this one on NetGalley.
Initially I simply felt that the single POV was not a good choice for this story, and I figured that once Teddy was revealed he’d seem less sketchy and things would pull together better. That’s not really what happened, so I’ll throw some info out there that I hope will be useful, because there’s definitely an audience for this book. It might get a little spoilery, but only because I’m trying to explain my points.
The background is this: We begin with Clover interviewing for the new Press Secretary opening at the White House. Clover is incredibly good at her job, and she knows it, but an interview is an interview, and the White House is the White House. It isn’t until after the interview that we learn that Clover has some history with the president, Teddy. She was on his campaign and served as his communications director (or the like) for the first couple years he was a senator. There was perhaps a bit of flirting, and they shared a kiss (that is mentioned maaaaaybe twice ever) and then went their separate ways.
The conflict is this: Teddy is not only Clover’s boss, he’s the President of the United States. Teddy wants them to be together. Clover has an amazing career and wants to be taken seriously in it.
Let’s examine the execution.
As I mentioned, this is exclusively Clover’s POV. On the one hand, she’s a fantastically competent, take-no-prisoners, you-wish-you-were-as-amazing-as-me woman. On the other hand, she’s a wounded, jilted woman with romantic insecurities that had my eyebrows climbing into my hair. I really liked the former aspect of Clover’s presentation, and while I do believe that everyone has some kind of insecurities and soft spots, the way Clover’s were presented were…not great. Take, for example, Clover’s explanation of why she’s opted for no-strings sex relationships over romantic partnerships:
I, on the other hand, had my fill of romantic relationships. I’d wasted entirely too much time on men who didn’t deserve my attention.
Okay, so that seems pretty solid. Then she says:
And I can admit when I fall in love, I can be a little crazy.
Like, if I call and you don’t answer your phone, I’m going to assume you want to see me in person. If I find another woman’s number in your contact list and it’s not work related, I may bleach your clothes. Yes, I have stalked a boyfriend’s social media page and could tell you what pictures he was liking and who was liking his. It took a lot of work to maintain that type of energy, so eventually, I decided to hit pause on the relationship stuff and just pursue what was really important to me…
In case it’s not obvious, none of those behaviors are healthy. At least she acknowledges it takes a lot of her energy. But she doesn’t stop there. Later on she says:
Once, I drove ten hours to confront the woman who was sleeping with my boyfriend. I ended up beating her ass, slashing his tires, and catching a charge, which was later expunged due to a Black female judge that took pity on me.
Like. How is another relationship not gonna be a problem for you without some soul-searching (*cough* therapy *cough*), Clover? All I see are planet-sized trust issues. Also, blaming another woman for a cheating man is some classic toxic femininity shit.
AND THEN, after Clover is just so amazingly on it for her entire job, just SO COMPETENT, she sleeps with Teddy and says:
What had I done to deserve all that he had given me last night?
Excuse me, what? Apparently the president suddenly has a magic peen that makes Clover completely forget what an amazing woman she is.
Suffice it to say, I did not care for the way the Teddy-relationship portion of the book involved a good deal of Clover losing her confidence in herself and relying on him to convince her to chase her dreams.
Okay, so then we’ve got to consider the development of Teddy. This is a boss-employee relationship that is taken to the Nth degree because both Teddy and Clover are viewed in the court of public opinion and the power dynamics of a president-employee relationship are probably not significantly different from a billionaire CEO-employee relationship, but they certainly feel like more. At the very least, there should be some conflict over the relationship happening at all, which is apparently only something relevant to Clover? All Clover’s friends and family are like, “Yes, definitely sexually harass the president and see what happens. Or at least see how big his penis is.”
And Teddy doesn’t care about the power imbalance at all! Like, in order to make this not completely yikes, Teddy should probably come across as a good guy or should come to be revealed as a good guy, right? We aren’t in his head and don’t know what he’s thinking, so all we have to go on are his actions and words. This is the foundation of the romance, and that foundation was incredibly shaky.
The Press Secretary position was available in the first place thanks to a resignation. After she starts, Clover goes out to lunch with the president (which, what?), which is of course news (though neither Clover nor Teddy consider this before going to lunch, which, also, what?), and afterward Clover’s direct supervisor takes her aside to gently rebuke her while intimating that her predecessor made Certain Choices and is now gone. When Clover later pulls in her assistant and asks what the story is, she is informed that there’s a rumor going around that the former press secretary was fired after having an improper relationship followed by a fight with the president.
Scandalous, right? Clover, being good at her job and wanting to continue to be good at her job, tells Teddy to back off…and he doesn’t. We get moments like this interlude between Clover and Teddy:
“You don’t just get to barge into my office whenever you like.”
His face wrinkled. “I’m the President. I can do anything I want.”
Or Clover talking to her best friend:
“Didn’t you just say you’re fixing to sleep with the President?” Daysha clasped her hands. “Oh, excuse me, Teddy.”
“I never said I was fixing to do anything. All I said is that Teddy is applying some serious pressure.”
Or there’s that time when Clover and Teddy are working late and have a dinner picnic on the floor of the Oval and he starts touching her thighs and massaging her feet. AFTER she’s made it clear that they are going to have a professional relationship only because of what it would mean for her if they didn’t. Really, there are many such moments, and each one paints a starker picture of a man who has absolutely no qualms steamrolling boundaries. Which is a real problem for a workplace romance.
And after they do get together? Clover is still trying to maintain a boundary, and there’s this whole “Say No to This” vibe going on (without the cheating). You know, when Hamilton is like, “In my mind I’m trying to go, then her mouth is on mine and I don’t say no.” That’s also Clover’s deal. But with genders reversed. And less blackmail.
Then some other stuff goes down that is just completely infuriating for a number of reasons, including both Clover and Teddy 1000% not behaving like they value their relationship at all, and also I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHERE THE SECRET SERVICE IS. Then things hit the fan, they have a fight, and Teddy drops this delightful little nugget:
“You know what?” He lengthened his neck and squared his posture. “You’re right, we would have never worked because you’re a broken, bitter bitch who’s gonna die alone.”
Which in a real life fight that’s dirty and emotional I get, even if it’s a really terrible thing to say, but in a romance…oof. Not gonna get a lot of forgiveness there, Teddy. EXCEPT HE DOESN’T APOLOGIZE. EVER. AT ALL.
In addition, there were some head-scratching moments for me. Like why they flew Air Force One from Andrews to Baltimore and spent the night there when the drive from the White House to Bmore is an hour and the WH is more secure than a hotel. Or why a man who theoretically cares about the environment would spend a bunch of money overnighting non-local food to Clover’s mother. Or why the president is talking to a North Korean ambassador that does not exist because we do not have diplomatic relations with the DPRK. Or how a politician would have such a cavalier attitude about optics. Or WHERE THE SECRET SERVICE EVER IS.
This is also a book that relies primarily on the idea that the sex is amazing which is why you know that the relationship is special. During the middle will-they-won’t-they sections, I struggled to connect with the romance because of everything I already mentioned, but also because they were constantly falling into bed, but I didn’t feel like the relationship was developing emotionally.
I’m not sure who this book is best suited to, but I do know it wasn’t for me.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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