Sex, sports, money, and lies: fertile grounds for a sweeping plot and seductive characters.

“Magnolia,” by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera follows the transformation of sweet  Midwesterner Magnolia Larson from a good Catholic girl to a “sports geisha” in Miami.

In concept, it’s a scintillating plot. Magnolia just got out of a bad relationship, and is sitting with $50 and a one-way ticket back to Minnesota in her pocket. In a last-ditch effort to drown her sorrows in a seedy bar she meets Oona, the sports agent who changes her life over the course of too many rum-and-Cokes.

The next day Magnolia moves from her cockroach-infested apartment to a penthouse and starts her training to be an expert in fulfilling high-paid athletes needs. The only catch is that she is forbidden to have any personal relationships during her two-year contract.

But the novel falls flat when the characters run thin and the writing hits a wall. The leading lady, Magnolia, is a contradiction within herself. She’s supposedly a genius; she went to college on a full scholarship and is able to master both Spanish and Japanese in just six weeks, while simultaneously training as a sports psychologist and toning her body into a well-oiled sex machine. I’m willing to believe all of this is possible, until she breaks Oona’s only rule on day one: she starts a relationship with a local restaurant owner.  It sounds like a perfect set up for illicit drama: falling madly in love and risking serious debt and a pair of broken knee-caps if they’re caught.  But I was never sold on this secret relationship. We never learn anything about the guy, and I just can’t see why a smart girl like Magnolia is so dangerously ga-ga over him.  Her naive willingness to jeopardize her new career just doesn’t ring true.

But in the end, it’s Garcia-Aguilera’s writing that’s the largest barrier to enjoying this novel. The mix of winding, run-on sentences and little dialogue makes understanding the chapters a chore. “Magnolia” is on the verge of an interesting novel and has a great formula, but feels more like an outline than a finished product.

Skip the book and head to Miami’s new hot spot, Cibo Wine Bar. Who knows, maybe Oona will be one stool over waiting to change your life.