‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Eight

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

Content warnings:

  • Ablist term (but not used to insult anyone else)
  • Carelessness about prospective animal ownership

 

Chapter Eight: Oz

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Seven

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

Content warnings:

  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Swearing (mine and the book’s)
  • Rape culture
  • Misogyny
  • Heavy drinking

 

Chapter Seven: Seeing Red

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Six

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

Content warnings:

  • Misogynistic insult
  • Drunk driving being treated casually, careful driving being treated negatively

 

Chapter Six: Shots

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Five

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

I realised, from reading over the bit of Jenny Trout’s post that’s equivalent to Chapter Four in this book (which makes it the middle part of Chapter Two in ‘Beautiful Disaster’, that McGuire left out another scene in this book. In ‘Beautiful’, there’s a scene where, after a few weeks of tutoring from Travis, Abby gets excellent grades and Travis celebrates this by throwing her over his shoulder and running through the crowd of students shouting. I was going to comment on this because – while it’s potentially a nice scene in itself and you can see how, in the right context, it could work well to show an easy and affectionate friendship between two people – it’s completely at odds with Travis’s realisation in a previous chapter that Abby hates getting attention. Once you know that Travis knows this about Abby, that scene becomes yet another unpleasant example of him disregarding her wants.

Anyway… in ‘Walking Disaster’ that scene was left out completely. I’m never sure to what extent scenes are left out because McGuire realises on at least some level they are absolutely not going to work when seen from inside Travis’s head, and to what extent it’s that she just can’t be bothered to put them in, but on this occasion I do think it’s the latter; I just don’t think McGuire would have joined the dots in her own narrative enough to notice the problem. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t here. But it was in ‘Beautiful’, so, if retconning it out was McGuire’s intention, then she was a bit late in doing so. A better way to rescue that scene would have been to include it but to show Travis realising afterwards that it would have been embarrassing and awkward for Abby and that he shouldn’t have done it. As it is… yet another example of Travis being focused on how he wants to act at the expense of considering what Abby wants.

Oh, well. On with this one.

Content warning:

  • Misogynistic insults (some of them recapped from Chapter One by me in order to illustrate a point; some of them new to this chapter)
  • Swearing (mine)
  • Slut-shaming and prude-shaming (yup; can’t win)
  • Pushy, boundary-trampling behaviour

 

Chapter Five: Roommate

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Two

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

Well, the first chapter lived up to the book’s title. I’m not holding my breath for the second one to be any better.

By the way; for those interested in keeping up with Jenny Trout’s snark-reviews of ‘Beautiful Disaster’, she now has Chapter Three up. That book isn’t getting any better either, but, as always, Jenny’s comments on it are definitely worth a read.

Back to ‘Walking Disaster’. Brace yourselves, everyone; here goes with Chapter Two. Wait, content warnings first:

  • Slut-shaming
  • Swearing (mine)
  • Swearing (Travis’s)
  • Mention of violence (only insofar as referring back to the first chapter)
  • Male main character being pushy and ignoring boundaries (yeah, what a surprise)
  • Objectification of female main character

 

Chapter Two: Backfire

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter One

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

I’m going to have to start putting in content warnings in this one. Content warnings here for:

  • Misogynistic comments/attitudes/insults
  • Swearing
  • Injury and blood
  • Red flag attitudes for possible abusiveness
  • A man thinking harassment is fun and sexy

Chapter One: Pigeon

 

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Prologue

For anyone who missed my post about this planned review, here is a quick bit of background:

Walking Disaster, part of a series by Jamie McGuire, is apparently one of those romance novels where the supposedly romantic behaviour of the male love interest is actually better described as highly alarming and possibly abusive. It’s a parallel novel to Beautiful Disaster, which told the story of the relationship between Good Girl ™ Abby Abernathy and Bad Boy ™ Travis Maddox, both college students, from Abby’s perspective; this book tells the story from Travis’s perspective. For an gloriously snarky review of Beautiful Disaster, check out Jenny Trout’s blog; at the time I write this, she’s finished Chapters One and Two, with more to come.

Aaaaand here we go!

So, this book retelling a ‘good girl and aggressive love interest’ story from the man’s POV starts out with a prologue describing a traumatic event from the main character’s childhood, seen through his eyes as a child. OK, good, we can all feel comfortable the author isn’t ripping off anyone else’s work.

Even with the sweat on her forehead and the skip in her breath, she didn’t look sick.

The next few pages will establish that this woman (OK, spoiler, it’s his mother) is lying in bed with an IV in, barely able to move or speak, with her eyes almost shut. She’s also thin to the point of boniness with brittle yellow nails and without the usual glow to her skin. To me, that sounds like a person who looks pretty sick. And not just to the point where I can pick up on those subtle signs because I went to medical school, but to the point where it would be quite apparent to her child.

However, apparently child-Travis’s only criterion for deciding whether someone looks sick is their level of retained beauty.

Her skin didn’t have the peachy glow I was used to, and her eyes weren’t as bright, but she was still beautiful. The most beautiful woman I would ever see.

That somehow doesn’t strike me as the main reaction a child would have on seeing his mother in that state. Or even the main reaction an adult would have in later life as he thought back to his childhood memory of seeing his mother in that state.

We then get a bit that’s actually rather nice, about the way his mother always focuses her attention on him:

That’s what I loved about her. When she looked at me, she really saw me. She didn’t look past me to the other dozens of things she needed to do with her day, or tune out my stupid stories. She listened, and it made her really happy. Everyone else seemed to nod without listening, but not her. Never her.

Travis’s mother asks him to come over to the bed, and his father nudges him forward with a few fingers on the back of his neck, which is enough to push Travis several steps forward. I’m not sure that’s physically possible without overbalancing someone? Also, his father is doing this while ‘listening to the nurse’, who is called Becky and first came to their house a few days ago. We aren’t told what Becky is saying to his father that’s so important she has to talk over what is apparently her patient’s deathbed goodbye to her son.

Anyway, what’s happening is that his mother has some final deathbed words of wisdom for him which she is about to pass on:

“Travis, I need you to listen to what I’m going to say, and even more important, I need you to remember. This will be very hard. I’ve been trying to remember things from when I was three, and I…” She trailed off, the pain too big for a bit.

Firstly: OK, we’ve got an age; he’s three. Thanks, I was wondering.

Secondly: what the hell?? Who decides that the best way to give their three-year-old the final message to sustain them through life is by expecting them to memorise it at a time of acute grief and trauma? How’s this poor kid going to feel when he inevitably can’t remember the final words his mother had for him? Especially since she’s telling him how important it is for him to remember, thus piling guilt on top of grief? This is clearly an expected death; why hasn’t she done this already by writing letters for her children, or making recordings, or telling her husband or family what she wants passed on? Bloody hell.

“Pain getting unmanageable, Diane?” Becky said, pushing a needle into Mom’s IV.

As a doctor, I have many questions about this:

Why is Becky not waiting for an answer before leaping in with a potentially oversedating injection just when Diane’s trying to pass on her final message to her son? (Which, yes, is another reason why you don’t leave your final messages to your children to the very last minute like this.) What if Diane was actually just overwhelmed by emotion and her pain was nicely controlled on what she was already getting?

Why was Becky not making sure the pain was under control before this three-year-old got shown in to see his dying mother?

Why the hell is Becky pushing a needle into an IV? You don’t put needles into IVs; you put the syringe directly onto the port to put the stuff in.

Why does Becky apparently have a syringe of opiates drawn up and ready to give, rather than needing to take a minute or two to draw it up? Especially when there are children around? Serious safety hazard.

Why, since this is obviously an ongoing progressive illness and there is a qualified health care professional involved, is Diane’s pain not under much better control with background medication? Why is it getting to the point of being overwhelming for her?

Why is Travis’s mom receiving pain relief via an IV instead of via a syringe driver, which is a considerably better method?

In fairness, the answer to both of the last two could plausibly be ‘Because that’s how pain relief would have been managed then’. This would have been in the 90s sometime; I have no idea how good palliative care was in the US at that time, so maybe the whole thing with the IV and the poor background pain control actually is the sort of thing that was going on then. The answer to the rest of the questions (and plausibly also to those two) is, I suspect, that the author wanted to go for a Heartwringing Deathbed Scene without actually doing any research.

On to Travis’s mom’s final advice:

“First, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel things. Remember that. Second, be a kid for as long as you can. Play games, Travis. Be silly” – her eyes glossed over – “and you and your brothers take care of each other, and your father. Even when you grow up and move away, it’s important to come home. Okay?”

So far, good advice, even if the timing is terrible. Unfortunately, we then get this:

“One of these days you’re going to fall in love, son. Don’t settle for just anyone. Choose the girl that doesn’t come easy, the one you have to fight for, and then never stop fighting.[…]”

NO, TRAVIS AND READERS, DO NOT DO THIS. Firstly, if someone doesn’t want to be with you, fighting for them is a terrible idea. Respect their wishes, accept it isn’t going to happen, move on. Travis’s mom has just set her son up to be a stalker and harasser. (And, yes, sadly this probably is pretty much the premise of the novel.) Secondly, even apart from consent issues, ‘the one you have to fight for’ is a terrible criterion for choosing your life partner.

Also, thirdly, how about a bit less heteronormativity? You don’t know your son’s going to turn out to be straight, Diane.

Anyway, she tells him never to stop fighting for what he wants and never to forget that she loves him and will always love him.

“Okay,” Becky said, sticking a funny-looking thing in her ears. She held the other end to Mommy’s chest. “Time to rest.”

1. Why does Travis know what an IV is but not what a stethoscope is?

2. Why is Becky listening to Diane’s chest right now anyway? Unless something really sudden and severe has come up (sudden extreme breathlessness might indicate pneumothorax), it’s not going to tell her anything new. And, since Diane is imminently dying, it’s not going to change management.

Becky looked at my dad. “We’re getting close, Mr Maddox. You should probably bring the rest of the boys in to say goodbye.”

Diane’s conscious, responsive, and able to talk coherently. She might well be getting close in the sense of ‘final days’, but the book seems to be trying to imply ‘final minutes’

Travis watches his mother trying to breathe and Becky ‘checking the numbers on the box beside her’. I’m not sure what the box is meant to be, but it sounds like the kind of monitor you’d use in an intensive care setting, which strikes me as both unlikely in what seems to be an in-home setup and pointless in end-of-life care. Still, though, this is another example of “well, I don’t know things weren’t done that way in the USA in the ‘90s”, so this one might not be the author’s fault.

Becky’s eyes seemed to know something I didn’t, and that made my stomach feel sick.

If the ‘something’ is that his mother’s dying, why does he not know that? At least give the poor kid some preparation for what’s happening!

Becky tells Travis that she’s giving his mommy some medicine to make her sleep but she’ll still be able to hear everything he says so he can still tell Mommy that he loves her and that he’ll miss her. Travis shakes his head and says that he doesn’t want to miss her, so it sounds as though he does at least partly understand that she’s dying (otherwise I’d expect his response to have been more along the lines of “Why, is she going away?” or else something completely tangential because he’s three and that’s how three-year-olds actually talk when they’re not in novels). So at least that’s something. Becky says that his mommy wants to be with him very much but Jesus wants her with him. Travis says (pretty reasonably) that he needs her more than Jesus does, and Becky’s response is to smile and kiss his hair, which annoyed me as it seems more like a ‘bless his little heart, isn’t he being adorable’ response when what a child (or an adult, for that matter) in that situation actually needs is for someone to acknowledge their grief and sympathise. (Also, of course, Becky is here invading the personal space of someone who barely knows her. That doesn’t become OK just because the person is a child.)

Dad knocks on the door and brings Travis’s brothers in. By the way, what is this business with one child coming in on his own first? Was Diane trying to make her final act for the family be a demonstration of who really gets Favourite Child status?

The parents went Duggar in naming their children, apparently; Travis’s brothers are called Trenton, Taylor, Tyler and Thomas. That must be fun when the mail arrives.

Also, I saw the names Taylor and Tyler and thought “Betcha they’re twins.” And then I thought “No, Sarah, you don’t know that, Jamie McGuire has probably had enough sense to avoid that particular cutesy trap, let’s not prejudge.” And then Jenny Trout got the first post up for her ‘Beautiful Disaster’ review and I read that and… yeah, they’re twins. Sigh. I hope neither of them get any medical problems requiring specialist care until at least one of them has moved out to a different address, because otherwise their GPs, or whatever you call primary care practitioners in the US, are going to have a grand old time keeping straight which clinic letters go in the file of which of the two boys with the same address, same date of birth and very nearly the same name. And pity the school teachers who have to deal with two boys with such similar details in the same school year. And, of course, Taylor and Tyler themselves, set up from birth to be barely-distinguishable halves of a Cutesy Duo rather than individuals. Parents… no matter how adorably cute it might seem at the time, don’t do this to your children.

Ahem. Sorry. Back to the book. Their father is too choked up to talk to the children, so Becky tells them that she hasn’t been eating or drinking and her body is letting go. That’s actually a good description of the process of dying from a chronic illness, but it might have been more tactful to explain it when they weren’t with Diane; I wonder how she feels about hearing this? Becky tells them that it’s going to be very hard but they should tell her that they love her and miss her and it’s OK for her to go. The children all say their goodbyes, apart from Travis who (understandably) can’t face telling his mother that it’s OK for her to go. Dad sends the children out, telling Thomas to get them ready for bed. How old is Thomas?? Not only is the poor kid getting dumped with taking care of four young and grieving children, this is happening when he’s grieving himself. That’s not good.

Thomas takes Travis out of the bedroom and upstairs to have a bath. On the way up the stairs, they can hear their dad wailing, which I’m guessing is meant to indicate that Diane’s died. Thomas gets Travis undressed and into the tub and is really nice to him, telling him that yesterday Mom told him to take care of him, the twins, and Dad. On the plus side, this sounds as though the other children probably each already had their Final Parting Advice session, so at least Travis being the only one of the children in their mother’s room at the beginning of the chapter wasn’t some kind of weird Favourite Child thing. On the very much minus side, why the bloody hell is Diane setting up her son to be a caretaker child? She should have been telling Dad to take care of Thomas and the rest of the children, not the other way round.

Anyway, while Thomas should never have been dumped with this job in the first place, he is being really sweet about it, telling Travis that they’ll miss Mom together, he’s going to take care of Travis, he’s going to make sure everything’s OK. Poor Travis, meanwhile, is not only frozen in place by shock and grief, but he’s also semi-remembering what his mother said about fighting and interpreting this as meaning that he should be fighting for Mom and that he’s letting her down by not doing so. (There you go; another reason why it’s a really bad idea to give your final dying advice to your three-year-old this way instead of writing it down in a letter for him to read when he’s older.) The prologue finishes with him mentally promising his mother that he’ll always play and he’ll always fight hard. Which is obviously meant to be setting up the plot for later (he fights in an illegal fight club at university, which is where he first meets Abby).

So, that’s the prologue. As I did with CCCFK, I’ll link all further posts on the book back to this post as I write them so that all links are collected in one place.

 

Chapter One: Pigeon

Misogynistic main character is misogynistic.

Chapter Two: Backfire

Nothing says ‘romance’ like total disregard for the other person’s safety.

Chapter Three: White Knight

If you like TV Tropes, I think this one counts as Ignored Epiphany.

Chapter Four: Distracted

Would you like that orange juice with a side order of toxic masculinity?

Chapter Five: Roommate

In which Travis’s casual sex predilection really isn’t the problem.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Final sections and final thoughts

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Puffing and panting on, finishing line in sight…

The cadets’ story is now finished. The final sections in the book are as follows:

  • Instructions for Using the Website. The instructions are one short paragraph telling readers to go to the website and watch the videos/do the activity sheets there. We didn’t.
  • A Challenge from J. Warner Wallace. The challenge being to get out there and evangelise.
  • Sample Fill-in Sheets. Worksheets for each chapter. They are, quite frankly, head-bangingly boring and consist of regurgitating back points from the story in each chapter, either by answering questions or filling in the blanks in sentences. If I was a child whose interest in Christianity had been piqued by the book (which might well have been my reaction to this book as a child), you can bet that this would have put me straight off it again. It ends with an advertisment for the original book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’, aimed at the parents.
  • Certificate of Promotion. A fancy certificate for children to cut out and keep (if they’re using the book version; families using the Kindle version can get the same certificate from the website) where parents can fill in their child’s name to state that they have successfully completed the Cold-Case Christianity Cadet Academy. (I thought for a moment this was meant to be a picture of one of the cadets’ certificates, and thought ‘Huh, Jeffries is having an unusual moment of honesty about the course.’)

And that’s all I got to say about most of that, but Katie and I both had some thoughts on the Challenge section.

This is the section where Wallace is trying to persuade all his new converts to get actively into the evangelism business. You believe in Jesus now! You’re part of an important team! You need to tell other people about this! In fact, you should love the idea of telling other people about this, because it’s such awesome news! Tell your friends, tell your church group, tell your family, use the next holiday get-together as a chance to tell everyone there all about your cadet academy training just in case they don’t already believe in Jesus!

“And then they’ll say that makes no sense,” Katie observed.

I feel sorry for any shy readers of this book; these expectations sound like torture for them. Not to mention the family members who’ll be stuck with sitting through excited and/or embarrassed evangelism, not wanting to hurt a child’s feelings. Curious, I asked Katie what she’d say if a friend tried to do this with her.

“I’d probably say to them ‘Well, personally I believe that it’s not really all that true. But if you want to believe in it, then, sure, that’s kind of what my religion’s about. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt or upset anyone, I’m OK with it.”

I’m proud of her; what a tactful way of dealing with a potentially awkward situation.

Meanwhile, what struck me most about this section was Wallace’s sheer enthusiasm for his religion. (To the point where I honestly don’t think it’s occurred to him that his expectations are likely to set up some seriously awkward and unpleasant family conversations. He genuinely thinks he’s doing people a favour by not only telling them all about Jesus but pushing others into doing so; after all, he’s happy with these beliefs, why wouldn’t everyone else be?) ‘I was excited about what I discovered and about what God had done for me,’ he writes. ‘I was so happy to finally know the truth’.

This struck me because it was so very different from the reaction I’ve always had to the basic tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. I mean, you’re talking about a religion that teaches that non-Christians are going to burn eternally in hell. That the one way out of burning in hell is a route that, in the nature of things, has been unavailable for most people throughout history simply because of the time and/or place of their birth. That good people are going to be abandoned by God to an eternity of torture. And I can never get my head round the mentality that hears about this and feels anything other than horrified at the thought.

To be fair, Wallace seems to be one of the people who thinks of hell as separation from God, so I suppose he’s not actually reading all this and picturing people being tortured. Still, to me it’s a strange and alien way of thinking.

 

Anyway… we finished that section, zipped through the others, and that was it… the end of the book! Almost fourteen months after first starting it, we had made it through!

I asked Katie for her final thoughts on the book.

“Well, for a start I thought it was a very biased opinion,” she told me. (To be fair to Wallace, it was never intended to be anything else.) “And also, it overlooked major plot points and also told… I wouldn’t call them lies because they weren’t intentional, but there were some really huge flaws in it. There were facts missing and facts that weren’t correct and stuff, and there were huge, huge, huge over-exaggerations. Stuff like that.” She didn’t feel it had changed her mind about anything, except possibly Wallace’s sanity level.

I would say that Wallace missed the mark with a member of his target audience there, but, during the time I spent reading this book, it eventually dawned on me that Katie was never his target audience. I’d started out assuming this book was aimed at non-Christian children and written with the aim of converting them. Naive of me; of course, it’s actually written for Christian children with Christian parents who want their children to stay Christian and want a resource for strengthening their faith. (I figured this out for myself, but a quick look on Wallace’s blog has confirmed it.) As far as I know, Katie and I are the only atheist parent-and-child team to have read and reviewed it; I’m pleased to have broken new ground there.

I chose this for my first review book on here mainly because I liked the idea of doing a review together with my daughter, and I’m so pleased I did, as it’s been great fun; but I also liked the idea that she would get the chance to read about a completely different belief, and that I would get the chance to talk to her about my reasons for not holding that belief. As far as religion is concerned (as far as quite a few things are concerned, in fact), my main priority for my children is that they learn to think for themselves. That’s far more important to me than having them grow up with the same beliefs about religion as I have.

This, of course, is easier said than done, so I don’t want to pat myself on the back and assume I’m getting it perfectly right; that’s just a one-way route to getting it wrong. But I’ll leave Katie with the last word on this one, from her comments during the final part of the review and what she thought about Wallace’s arguments. “I listened to you and to what you said,” she told me, “because what you said held up much better.”

 

And that, folks, finally is it; we have finished the review of Cold Case Christianity For Kids. My first book review on here is done. I hope you join me for many more, and for that matter I hope I manage many more. Do please come back for upcoming attractions. In the meantime (putting on Richard Ayoade voice) thank you for reading, if indeed you still are.