Socialite Hetty Allen enjoys the formality and opulence of the Houston upper crust while still dabbling in more risqué activities like smoking in public and going to jazz clubs. She is young, beautiful and from an elite family, the perfect match for Lamar, who is the sole heir to an oil fortune. Or is she? She has to be careful to guard the secret that could disrupt her family’s precarious footing in society, and she isn’t so sure about Lamar when she meets the rough-around-the-edges aspiring wildcatter, Garrett. She is forced to choose between the two men, a choice that will change both the course of her life and the lives of her entire family. She quickly learns the consequences of her actions, transforming her from a spirited, fun-loving girl into an independent and calculating woman.
One gets the sense that Alderson wants Magnolia City to be a sweeping epic, a sort of Texas version of Gone With the Wind, but the novel ends up being a little contrived and forced. There are too many competing ideas that go from high society and jazz clubs to bootlegging and oil drilling. They are all interesting, but it seems unlikely that one character would be involved in all of them over the course of a few years. Several of the main characters are called multiple names, which is confusing to the reader but which ultimately seems appropriate since the characters all go through radical, inexplicable changes throughout the novel as well. The early descriptions of Houston in the 1920s are detailed and lovely, but as the story moves away from its initial setting, it loses momentum.