In a direct embrace of the usual misspelling, Goodnight sets her tale in Austin where the ever-sensible Nicola James buys “the perfect Austenesque” journal and is mystified when her own words adjust into a message she did not intend when she wrote them (2). Of course, she’s not any more content to let that be than any Austen heroine would. She also seems to want a “weird” shirt. (I never quite figured that one out.)
Though it may not bode well for our heroine, I love that she compares men in her life to various Austen men. Dr. Batten would approve, I think. For instance, the cute guy in a nearby cubicle is “the Mr. Knightley of [her] imagination: self-assured, serious-minded, and sexy” (42). She struggles to identify the Scot she meets after Fairy Jane offers some provocative advice. We sense this Scot is too good to be true and that our heroine is misunderstanding Austen’s advice in the journal, but even when the big revelation happens, it doesn’t quite cast aspersions on Sean’s character. We’re left thinking, “that’s it?” Or maybe something else is going on, yet to be revealed. I’d be tempted to think it has really been Brett (guy #2) all along, but he asked her to pay her own bill over lunch, so, no. By the time the truth is revealed, I’m surprised: the guy’s good! I thought there must be something wrong with him! Is that because Nic thought so, even as she ditched work to be with him? Have I been led to think one way by a narrator who makes me trust my heroine’s logic and then shows me how my heroine made a mistake? (Sounds familiar J). At least Nic had the presence of mind to request her man wear a kilt on the adventure.
Our heroine is entertaining (one of the first concerns she has with a sojourn to Scotland is that “the closest Mexican restaurant [would be] hundreds of miles” away, for instance 254), but Goodnight surrounds her with a host of interesting friends as well. In particular, I enjoyed her pink-haired friend Beck who, when asked what two people, living or dead, she’d “invite to dinner,” answered “Jane Austen and Colin Firth” (240). Though occasionally something annoying slips in (How is her world “literally on fire”? 268 For what kind of people does “lust shimm[y] up” their “spine[s]”? 92 Why does she keep calling a mean shop owner a Nazi?), for the most part, the only lackluster character is the guy Nic doesn’t end up falling for. On her journey, we get a double romance, a lesbian social scene, an allusion to “Costanza” (you can hardly go wrong in the hands of a Seinfeld devotee 183), and an interesting explanation for why Elizabeth Bennet so appeals to us: “If a person is clever and sensible—maybe a little charming—things could . . . turn out all right” (16).
As they do for everyone we cheer on in this magical Texan tale.