‘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

 

Having met child-Travis in the prologue, we are now into the head of adult-Travis. It’s something of a jolt.

Fucking vultures, they could wait you out for hours. Days. Nights, too. Staring right through you, picking which parts of you they will pull away first, which pieces will be the sweetest, the most tender, or just which part will be most convenient.

Fear not, dear readers; Travis has his strategy for dealing with these people:

That’s when you bring in the secret weapon: an utter lack of respect for the status quo; a refusal to give in to the order of things.

Why, you rebel without a cause, you. But, readers, you might well be wondering just who, in Travis’s life, has earned this charming description?

An opponent in the Circle

The ‘Circle’, for those who haven’t read the beginning of ‘Beautiful Disaster’, refers to the illicit fight club where Travis fights for money. As in, he goes voluntarily into the ring to fight with another person. I’m not seeing how this matches to the ‘vultures wait you out for days’ metaphor. But then I suspect McGuire didn’t either.

some random douche bag trying to expose your weakness with insults

Refusing to care about random douchebags who insult you does indeed sound like a good idea. Unfortunately, we then get this:

a woman trying to tie you down

That might, of course, just refer to someone with poor respect for consent in BDSM play. Somehow I don’t think that’s how it was meant.

Travis explains that this refusal to care about things is how he’s lived his life from a very young age.

Leaving emotion at the door, and replacing it with numbness, or anger – which was much easier to control – was easy.

Isn’t anger an emotion?

Letting yourself feel made you vulnerable.

However, his family and friends disagree with this philosophy despite all his attempts to convince them. (He doesn’t mention whether any of them have tried to convince him to get therapy.) And then, we get this:

As many times as I had seen them crying or losing sleep over some dumb bitch in a pair of fuck-me heels that never gave a shit about them anyway, I couldn’t understand it. The women that were worth that kind of heartbreak wouldn’t let you fall for them so easy. They wouldn’t bend over your couch, or allow you to charm them into their bedroom on the first night – or even the tenth.

I… think that this whole somewhat incoherent if heartfelt rant is meant to be establishing our romantic hero as someone who just needs the right woman to heal him from his emotional damage. Or something. I’m pretty sure that the actual effect it’s having – namely, establishing him as a vilely unpleasant and misogynistic character with a mile-wide streak of hypocrisy over sexual standards – is not what the author intended.

I decided a long time ago I would feed on the vultures

Doesn’t sound like the best of metaphors; don’t predator animals make pretty poor-quality meat?

until a dove came along. A pigeon. The kind of soul that didn’t impede on anyone; just walked around worrying about its own business, trying to get through life without pulling everyone else down with its own needs and selfish habits.

This might be just me, but I can’t help thinking that if someone was trying to think of an image to fit with that last sentence, ‘pigeon’ is probably not the one that would occur to them.

The backstory here, however, is that in ‘Beautiful Disaster’ Travis keeps referring to Abby as ‘Pidge’ (despite her being annoyed by it and asking him not to do so). This seems to be McGuire’s attempt at coming up with an explanation for the nickname.

Brave. A communicator. Intelligent. Beautiful. Soft-spoken. A creature that mates for life. Unattainable until she has a reason to trust you.

OK. Important statement here, probably the most important thing I’ll say in this whole post:

McGuire is describing Travis as showing utter contempt for most people, yet being potentially willing to make an exception if he meets a woman who strikes him as special enough. Who will, I think we can reasonably assume, turn out over the course of the story to be Abby-the-love-interest-to-be.

I’m also going to go out on just a bit of a limb here and guess that McGuire is seeing this as incredibly romantic. Travis’s love interest will be so special! So Not-Like-Other-Girls(tm)! She will be the one woman amazing enough to be the exception to his contempt! The one woman with the power to heal his damaged heart! Awwwww!

In actual fact? If someone is combining this sort of ugly misogyny and/or misanthropy with this sort of ‘you are the one special exception’ attitude… run like hell.

Someone who feels this way is not being any more realistic in their assessment of The One Special Exception than they are in their assessment of everyone else. They’re just going in the other direction with their caricatures. They’re falling in love with an idolised being of impossible perfection who exists only in their imagination. And when they find out that the person whom they believed to be this perfect idol is actually a normal imperfect human being… then their reaction isn’t going to be pretty.

Travis, here, is dividing the world into ‘vultures’ and this one perfect pigeon he imagines. In real life, you know how he’d react on finding out that Abby didn’t live up to his unattainable image after all? He’d immediately file her mentally under the ‘vulture’ category, because that’s the other mental category he’s got. He’d get angry that she wasn’t his perfect pigeon after all. And then he’d get nasty.

As I stood at my open apartment door, flicking the last bit of ashes off my cigarette, the girl in the bloody, pink cardigan from the Circle flashed in my memory. Without thinking, I’d called her Pigeon. At the time it was just a stupid nickname to make her even more uncomfortable than she already was.

What a sweet example of our romantic hero’s thoughtfulness! Are you bowled over yet?

Her crimson-spattered face, her eyes wide, outwardly she seemed innocent, but I could tell it was just the clothes.

And you could tell this… how?

Also, I don’t know if McGuire is actually going to explain the ‘crimson-spattered’ part or if she’s just going to assume that the only people reading this are people who’ve already read ‘Beautiful Disaster’, so… The reason Abby was covered in blood in this memory was because she was standing next to the ring during one of Travis’s illicit fights, and got sprayed with blood when Travis broke his opponent’s nose. (Which, in addition to being fairly revolting, is also medically worrying; blood spurting out with that kind of force is normally a sign of arterial damage, and we were also told the opponent was unresponsive after the fight. I do hope he’s OK.) And, no, no-one actually seems to pay any attention to the possible health risks of being sprayed by blood.

We get a brief glimpse of Megan, an ongoing casual sex partner of Travis’s who suits him well because she doesn’t care about commitment. She leaves and Travis heads to campus, meets the guy who runs the fight club to get his payment, and then goes to the cafeteria… OK, hold on, I had to go back and check here to try to figure out when in the day this is meant to be. In the scene back at the apartment, Travis’s flatmate Shepley is getting dressed; Shep and Travis talk about Megan having come over for morning sex before lectures so that she can ‘claim’ him for the day; and Travis mentions his motorbike glistening in the morning sun. None of that fits with Travis going for lunch at this point. I wondered if maybe it was breakfast, but I checked the same scene in ‘Beautiful Disaster’ and it’s definitely lunch. Also, when Travis left the apartment he supposedly had a lecture in half an hour; he wasn’t bothered about the thought of being late, but there was no indication he was planning to skip it. Since then he’s biked from his apartment to campus and met Adam (fight club guy) for his money, so surely the lecture must be about to start if it hasn’t already started; yet, here Travis is, going for lunch.

So, in a nutshell, McGuire can’t keep track of what’s happening in her own plot from one page to the next.

Anyway, as he’s about to go into the cafeteria, Travis is accosted by two women – Lexi and Ashley – who step in front of him. We learn that Travis previously had sex with Lexi because he liked her breasts, which have been enlarged. However, he thinks she’s inarticulate and a tart and he hates her voice, which he makes snidey jokes to himself about. Our adorably sweet romantic hero strikes again.

We get this ridiculously overdone bit about how Travis has these two gorgeous but contemptible women following him and all over him like a rash and the guys from the football team are gazing at him in awe for having these beautiful women after him. Wasn’t there a recurring scene like this in ‘Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’? Except those were deliberately played for laughs, as I recall; this is actually meant seriously.

While this is happening, Travis sees Shep with his girlfriend America (yes, this is her name) and the ‘pigeon from the fight’, who apparently can’t take her eyes off Travis as he sits down. Lexi sits on Travis’s lap and starts openly groping him; despite having made it clear to us that he despises her, Travis is apparently quite happy with this.

I spread my legs a little wider, waiting for her to reach her mark.

Until Lexi responds to something America says by calling her a ‘skank’, whereupon Travis lets her slip off his lap onto the floor. OK, would have been better if he’d told her to get off rather than just dropping her on the floor where she could get hurt, but this doesn’t sound miles off reasonable, given how Lexi’s just acted. But then… we get this.

I admit, it turned me on a little hearing the sound of her skin slap against the ceramic.

I’d have been OK with it if he’d just said he found it satisfying, but it’s seriously disturbing to know that this is something he finds arousing. Showing dominance and hurting women gets Travis turned on. Our romantic hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Lexi gets the message and leaves, and Travis tells us:

I had one rule: respect.

Seriously?? You claim this ten seconds after you described this woman as an inarticulate tart and sneered at how her voice sounded?

For me, my family, and for my friends.

OK… that actually makes a horrible kind of sense. He doesn’t see respect as important because other people are human beings who deserve it; for him, it’s about who’s in his in-group.

Well, not quite:

Hell, even some of my enemies deserved respect.

But not, apparently, the women he has sex with.

It might sound hypocritical to the women that have passed through my apartment door, but if they carried themselves with respect, I would have given it to them.

We have heard nothing whatsoever to indicate that the women he sleeps with don’t carry themselves with respect. I have a nasty feeling that he feels this way because they’re willing to have casual sex with him. If that is his reason… right there with them on the ‘hypocrite’ claim, sunshine.

There’s a brief conversation with someone called Chris Jenks who compliments Travis on his job last night (i.e. winning his fight) and is immediately shut down by another guy because, as everyone knows, the first rule about Fight Club is…. etc. Also, having already been introduced to a character called America, we now learn that this guy is called Brazil. Did McGuire go Womble on naming her characters? (Does that joke even make any sense to people who didn’t grow up in the UK in the ’70s? I have no idea how widely known the Wombles were outside Britain.) Oh, and Chris calls Travis ‘Mad Dog’ but Travis doesn’t like being called that and shuts him off. Because it’s really annoying when someone calls you by a nickname you don’t like, isn’t it, Travis?

Aaaaand we are now at the bit where Travis gets a good look at our heroine and describes her for the readers. His comment is that she doesn’t have the biggest tits Travis has ever seen. This isn’t quite his first thought about her, but it’s close. She also has ‘the hair of a porn star, and the face of an angel’. If I asked what the identifying characteristics of a porn star’s hair are, would I regret it? Yes, yes, I probably would, so let us go no further into that line of thinking. Also, we get this:

That was when I saw it: behind the beauty and fake innocence was something else, something cold and calculating. Even when she smiled, I could see sin so deeply ingrained in her that no cardigan could hide it. Those eyes floated above her tiny nose, and smooth features. To anyone else, she was pure and naive, but this girl was hiding something. I knew only because the same sin had dwelled in me my entire life. The difference was she held it deep within her, and I let mine out of its cage on a regular basis.

I have no idea what to make of that paragraph. It reads as if a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preacher decided to try his hand at writing romance fiction and couldn’t quite shift gears. I’ll simply take a moment to picture Abby’s eyes floating somewhere in mid-air above her nose, and move on.

Travis immediately decides (it’s not clear how, since at this point neither Travis nor Abby has been described as saying anything to each other) that Abby a) doesn’t talk much and b) is ‘kind of a bitch’ when she does talk. Which he likes.

She put on a front to keep assholes like me away, but that made me even more determined.

…says the man who, a few paragraphs ago, was fed up that Lexi and Ashley wouldn’t just take a damn hint and leave him alone.

We get a kind of odd skip from Abby keeping her head down and ignoring him to Abby rolling her eyes at Travis ‘for the third or fourth time’, and Travis finds it amusing that he’s annoying her. You irresistible romantic fool, you, Travis. He asks her if she has a ‘twitch’, because her eyes ‘keep wriggling around’. She glares at him, which he interprets as ‘She was a smart-ass and rude as hell’, which, of course, are characteristics he really likes.

He leans in and tells her how amazing her eyes are and she ducks her head so her hair covers them;

Score. I made her uncomfortable, and that meant I was getting somewhere.

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH.

OK, I have scrolled back and updated the growing ‘content warning’ list. Continuing…

America tries to warn Travis off by saying he isn’t Abby’s type. Travis acts all surprised and claims to be ‘everyone’s type’. This gets a smile out of Abby, which is enough to make Travis think he’s ‘getting ahead’. He whispers in America’s ear asking her to help him out here, and Shepley throws a chip (sorry, French fry, I forgot chips mean something different in your country) at his face because how dare he get his lips close to someone that Shepley has marked as his own, even though he’s clearly just trying to whisper in her ear. Travis leaves the cafeteria, thinking about how ‘Pigeon’ is the total opposite of the caricatures other girls here and he wants to know why. This, for anyone not familiar with it, is a trope known as ‘Not Like Other Girls‘, and it looks as though this series is going to have it in spades.

Travis goes on to his lecture. No, this isn’t the lecture that Travis mentioned just before leaving his apartment, the one that was supposed to be starting in half an hour; this is a different one. You know, all McGuire needed to do to fix this inconsistency was to add the phrase ‘After morning lectures’ to the beginning of the first sentence in the paragraph about meeting the Fight Club guy for payment, and that would have sorted it. Proofreading; it’s a thing.

At his desk, he’s once again surrounded by adoring women trying to date him/seduce him and pouting when he isn’t interested. Does anyone know if there’s a clip anywhere of that recurring scene in ‘Fonz and the Happy Days Gang’ that I was talking about? I really feel I need it for this review.

Abby rushes in just before the bell rings for the start, because she’s apparently in the same lecture despite the fact that the first time Travis ever noticed her was last night at Fight Club. Travis promptly goes to sit next to her and tells her she can take notes for him. Abby is ‘utterly disgusted’ to see him and looks as though she wants to puke, which Travis finds ‘strangely endearing’, because he is a dick.

He asks if he’s offended her in some way. I hope you will not be too shocked to hear that the actual answer to this question is ‘Yes’; I checked ‘Beautiful Disaster’ for the scene where they meet in the cafeteria, and McGuire did indeed leave several lines out of the equivalent ‘Walking Disaster’ scene at the point where there’s that odd skip forward. In that part, Travis was calling her ‘Pigeon’ even though she made it clear she didn’t like it and persisting in talking to her even though she clearly didn’t want to talk to him. Then, of course, we have the bit where he literally gets all in her face so that he can talk about her eyes, and now the way he’s come over to sit with her when she very clearly doesn’t want him there. So, yes, I’d say he’s offended her.

Abby, however, shakes her head. Travis takes this as ‘If she wanted to play, I could play.’ Travis, you are offending me. In pretty much every way. He asks what her problem is. Gee, I don’t know, Travis, maybe the fact that you keep trying to get near her when she wants to be left alone? She tells him, with some embarrassment, that she’s not sleeping with him so he should give up now. Travis decides that this is going to be ‘fun’. Aaaarrrrgggghhhhh. He points out that he hasn’t asked her, then asks her to come over tonight with America and promises her he won’t even flirt with her. She says she’ll think about it.

She wasn’t going to roll over like the vultures above.

You might have mixed your metaphors there.

Abby was different, and I was going to have to work for this one. For once.

NotLikeOtherGirls(TM)! And, yes, we do also get to read that the other girls who were after Travis are all now glaring at Abby. Because apparently we can’t have a romance without it being framed in terms of inter-women hostility.

At the end of class, Abby manages to get away before Travis does, and gets a head start.

I’ll be damned. She was trying to avoid me.

No shit, Sherlock.

So Travis, because he has zero respect for her wishes, charges ahead and catches up to her. Delayed only by an adoring female throwing her arms around him and needing to be peeled off (I am not making this up), he starts pestering Abby about whether she’ll come round to his apartment or not and she gives in and agrees to come over that night, which Travis sees as her ‘going on the offensive’ because he is apparently incapable of seeing this as anything other than a battle of some sort.

Travis then meets up with Shepley and America. America, it seems, is granted the great honour of not being labelled as a vulture by Travis. This is because she doesn’t say ‘like’ all the time, she’s sometimes funny, and – most important of all – it took her weeks after the first date before she was willing to come to the apartment, let alone stay over. At this point I’m going to refer you back to a line that I skipped over back in the lecture scene, when the adoring beauties were mobbing Travis:

Vultures. Half of them I’d bagged my freshman year, the other half had been on my couch well before fall break.

But the most important feature about America is that she doesn’t sleep with Shepley straight away. Are you sure that’s an apartment you live in, Travis? It’s sounding awfully like a glass house, and you’re doing some serious stone-throwing.

I had a feeling the probationary period before Shepley could bag her was about to end, though.

Huh? At the beginning of this chapter, it was morning and Shepley was getting dressed and talking about how he had to take America back to campus. I mean, this might or might not mean they’re having sex, but it’s odd that Travis still assumes they’re not.

By the way, ‘bag’ is one slang term for sex that I hadn’t heard before. Didn’t think there were too many of those left after the number of medical student Christmas shows I watched/participated in.

Travis thinks that Shepley’s lucky:

Girls like that didn’t come along very often.

Yes, they do, Travis. Some of them you miss because you’re too busy assuming they’re vultures and you don’t want to know them, and the rest are steering the hell clear of you because they’ve realised what you’re like. Shepley isn’t lucky; he just isn’t a dick, which, amazingly enough, actually makes a difference to someone’s chance of having a successful love life.

There’s a bit more conversation. We establish that 1. Shepley’s really serious about America, although he doesn’t want to discuss it, and 2. Shepley wants Travis to leave America’s friends alone (this chapter doesn’t explain why, but the equivalent chapter in BD does; it’s because Shepley’s previously been through the experience of losing a girlfriend when Travis sleeps with and dumps her best friend, and he doesn’t want this to happen with America). Travis refuses to promise this. Chapter ends. Phew. Twenty-seven more, plus an epilogue, to go.

Also, please excuse me tagging this as ‘Art, Culture and Humor’ on the front page of the main blog. I know it’s none of those, but FTB has limited categories and we don’t have one for ‘utter shit’.

Comments

  1. Jazzlet says

    Urgh is my initial reaction, what a slug. Also boo to the author for choosing to have such a misogynistic ‘hero’.

    • Dr Sarah says

      Jenny Trout has reviewed a previous book of this author; she seems to write astonishingly misogynistic stuff generally.

      I would agree with your description of Travis except that it seems a little unfair to slugs.

  2. says

    The only time I’ve heard the term “bag” used in a sexual context was in a comic called “Marshall Law”, a grimdark (it came out in the ’90s) deconstruction of superheroes wherein an embittered ex-girlfriend of the protagonist describes him as a “three-bagger”. That is, sleeping with him again would require the use of three bags: one for his head, one for her head, and one for her to be sick in afterwards. It seems somehow appropriate for this nauseating book. 🤢

    PS You have my axe vote for an “utter shit” category on FtB

  3. Izzy says

    For a while I thought it might be amusing to picture the cast of this book as Wombles but it was just sad. Wombles have more respect for earth worms than Travis does for the women he has sex with.

    • Dr Sarah says

      NO WAY SHOULD THE WOMBLES BE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS. They were lovely. Well, kind of ’70s-patriarchal – the only female character was the cook – but otherwise lovely. I know I was the one who brought it up, but I refuse to mix the two concepts in my mind any further.

  4. ridana says

    “Bag” is derived from the hunting term, like bagging a deer or pheasant. Nice, huh. It can refer to simply getting someone to go out with you, or having one-and-done sex, or sealing the deal (she bagged a millionaire; he bagged a supermodel).

    In this case, it’s not clear if she means they haven’t had sex yet, or if after the probationary stalking period, he’ll have made the kill and bagged her into a relationship.

    I’ll simply take a moment to picture Abby’s eyes floating somewhere in mid-air above her nose

    I had just taken a sip of coffee and that came this close to making me spray it across the screen.

    • Dr Sarah says

      My work here is done…

      And, yes, I did have a horrible feeling that might be where the term came from. (I mean, I didn’t know the hunting term, but there’s an old-fashioned childhood slang term in the UK – ‘bags’ or ‘bagsie’, as in ‘bagsie this one’ – that’s similar. (I suppose the hunting term must be where that came from, so there you go, I’ve learned something.) It’s a way of indicating possession; a ‘this one’s mine’. Urgh, ugly.

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