Houston in the 1920s is a city of established cotton kings and newly rich oil barons, where the elite live in beaux art mansions behind the gates of Courtlandt Place. Kirby Augustus Allen, grandson of the Allen brothers who founded Houston as a real estate deal, is grooming his daughter Hetty to marry Lamar Rusk, scion of the Splendora oil fortune. Instead, at the No-Tsu-Oh Carnival of 1928, beautiful, rebellious Hetty encounters a mysterious man from Montana dressed in the gear of a wildcatter--an outsider named Garret MacBride.
Hetty is torn between Lamar's lavish courtship and her instinctive connection to Garret. As Lamar's wife she would be guaranteed acceptance to the highest ranks of Houston society. Yet Garret, poor but powerfully ambitious, offers the adventure she craves, with rendezvous in illicit jazz clubs and reckless nights of passion. The men's intense rivalry extends to business, as rumors of a vast, untapped ocean of oil in East Texas spark a frenzy that can make fortunes--or shatter lives and dreams beyond repair.
A sweeping, sumptuous debut that evokes the turmoil and drama rippling through the history of the Lone Star State, Magnolia City is a story of love, greed, jealousy, and redemption, brought to life through the eyes of its unforgettable heroine.
"Masterfully written, this story of oil, love, and family will grab you by the heart and not let you go." --Maria V. Snyder, New York Times
"Magnolia City is a compelling and evocative portrait of Houston in the 1920s. In turns thrilling, heartbreaking and uplifting, you will not want to put this book down until you've seen Hetty MacBride through all of her trials and triumphs." --Rebecca Kanner, author of Sinners and the Sea
"Duncan Alderson deftly brings to life a lost and fascinating time and place, Texas in the early years of the twentieth century. Magnolia City is a page-turner from the start." --Holly Chamberlin, author of The Beach Quilt
1. Hetty dates two charismatic men, Lamar and Garret. She
has trouble choosing between them and, even up to the last
moment, isn’t sure she’s made the right decision. She feels
that the human heart, after all, has four chambers. Do you
think a woman can love more than one man? Does Hetty
make a good decision . . . or a foolish one?
2. Is Hetty’s impulse to work at the Dowling Street Medical
Clinic a pure one, or simply rebellion against her parents?
She likes shocking her contemporaries by riding in the front
seat with Pick and consorting with his family. Is this true
philanthropy on her part? If she really cares about Pick,
would she ask him to pump hot oil under cover of night?
Houstonians are famous for their generosity, but is there
such a thing as pure philanthropy—or is there usually a hidden
3. Why does Nella keep her heritage a secret? Why does Hetty
insist on taking Garret into her mother’s secret room? Why
does she expect him to reject her when he sees what’s on the
walls? What does this reveal to us about society in Houston
in the 1920s? Have things changed much since then?
4. Why does Hetty have precognitive dreams? What part do
they play in the unfolding of the story and what do they tell
us about her heritage? How does she use the knowledge
that’s revealed to her? Do you think dreams are caused by
indigestion or are they a conduit to a deeper part of ourselves?
What responsibility do we have in interpreting
5. Many sisters feel affection for each other. Why don’t Hetty
and Charlotte get along? What does their relationship reveal
about family dynamics in the Allen household? Why is
Charlotte compared to a Stegodyphus spider? Do you have
a harmonious relationship with your own relatives today?
Or do you still feel “trickles of irritation” like Hetty?
6. Does Hetty cross a line when she starts helping her husband
break the law? Do you think she’s justified in what she does,
or is Pearl correct when she says “the wages of sin is
death”? We have similar laws today forbidding recreational
drugs like marijuana. Do you think drugs should be legalized
or not? What lessons can be learned from Prohibition?
7. At one point, Nella quotes the Hopis: “When you dig treasure
out of the earth, you invite disaster.” What disaster
does Hetty witness in the Splendora oil field? How is this
environmental blight a metaphor for her relationship with
Lamar? And what do more recent spills tell us about the
dangers and ethics of the oil industry?
8. Do you think Nella should have stayed at the Kneeling
Station for three days? Why didn’t she recant her story of
the Alamo sooner? What was at stake for her? Do you think
we should teach our children both sides of the conflict? It’s
been said that “History is written by the victors.” Do we
need to rewrite Texas history for a new generation that includes
a larger Hispanic populace?
9. Why does Hetty kneel before the Virgin of Guadalupe in
the Chapel of Miracles? Wouldn’t a modern young woman
like her view the Madonna as Catholic superstition? How
does this relate to her heritage and her relationship with
Nella? Is it sacrilege for Cora to compare the sacred image
to a vulva? Does this help or hinder Hetty’s growing sense
of womanhood? Do you think America needs a goddess of
10. Why does Cora insist that Hetty confront Pick’s mother,
Velma? Can you deal with guilt alone, or do you need forgiveness
in order to loosen its hold? Is Hetty responsible for
what happens to Pick? Can she forgive herself or, like the
Ancient Mariner, does she have to continuously retell her
story, first to Cora, then to Garret, in order to break its hold