It Had to be You

A Sure Thing

All That Matters by Courtni Wright
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-58314-101-4
All That Matters is the incredible story of Elizabeth Katherine “Honey” Tate.

Honey grew up in New Orleans as the sweet, golden and pampered daughter of a prominent Creole attorney and his wife. She was fifteen when her father died suddenly of a heart attack. The family finances and lifestyle took a definite decline. Left with only a small insurance policy, Honey and her mother were forced to move from their home on the outskirts of the city.

Curiously, the Tates left New Orleans for New York, where the cost of living is markedly higher and where they had no friends, relatives or acquaintances. But not only was Honey “naturally good and sweet,” she was beautiful. She found work as a model and “she quickly became a favorite of everyone in town.” And, despite her hectic schedule, Honey attended the best schools and was even able to graduate from college a year early.

All That Matters begins six years later. Honey’s mother has died in New York of cancer and “from a sense of disillusionment and hopelessness too large to shoulder without help and from complete abandonment of herself to grief.” Honey embarks on a mission of restoring Longmeadow, the family estate, to its former glory. She leaves life on the New York runways to become a “clothes hanger,” a “human mannequin” in the window of a New Orleans couturier named Saint Philippe. It is while Honey is on display that she is noticed by Stephen Turner of the law firm of Turner, Turner and Turner.

During the same time, Honey is befriended by Jacqueline du Prix. Stephen and Jacqueline have a lot in common. Their family businesses span generations. The Turner men have been lawyers while at least three generations of du Prix women have been “courtesans” of the rich and famous. It is rumored, but unsubstantiated that independent and reclusive Jacqueline has taken up the family business. As a result, Honey is discouraged from continuing a friendship with Jacqueline at the risk of her own reputation and livelihood, but Honey she will not abandon her new friend.

When Honey asks Stephen to try to clear Jacqueline’s reputation, he begins a discreet investigation that everyone seems to know about. The “upstanding” families in New Orleans begin a backlash against his family to force him to stop. They even threaten to strike the Turners from the social register and to remove their legal patronage from the family firm. Steven is faced with a choice: Honey or the money. He thinks long and hard. It takes several tries before he gets it right.

Courtni Wright has crafted a story of love, loyalty, lies and family secrets. All That Matters is novel caught in a time warp. It is a contemporary romance that reads like a historical novel. The reader is several chapters into the story before an attempt to establish the timeframe is made by the author. The actions of the main characters and the reactions of the secondary characters all point to an earlier time. Throughout the novel, the narrative and dialogue allude to a 19th century setting until references to Fortune 500 companies, cell phones, T-shirts or paramedics abruptly shatter the illusion.

The author seems to be trying to create a portrait of New Orleans. However, what emerges is often unclear. The city is referred to as “The Paris of the Americas” in one chapter, and as “The City That Care Forgot” in the next. However, there is no real sense of what is being conveyed in the disparate depictions since the narrative does not support it. In addition, clichés and stereotypes abound, including references to and a dalliance in voodoo. The portrait of New Orleans society is not very flattering. Peripheral characters add little to the mix and often come across as shallow and self-absorbed.

Courtni Wright has inserted a very interesting plot twist that saves All That Matters from being a one-heart read. However, for some, it may come to late in the story to matter. I would think twice about this one.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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