‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Four

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 warning: Objectification of women.


Chapter Four: Distracted

The decision was crazy, but freeing.

Huh? What decision? What’d I miss?

OK, I flipped back to the last chapter. It ends with Travis recognising that he has a dilemma; a) he’s really attracted to Abby, and b) he believes that for her sake he shouldn’t make her into another one of his ‘conquests’, as he has so charmingly described them. This chapter goes on from that sentence to describe Travis hanging out with Abby as a friend. So apparently that’s the decision. It’s not ‘crazy’, but it’s still not a great decision; in the first place we all know how his inability to make a clean break is going to end, and in the second place it would be a heck of a lot better if his recognition that he’s treating women badly went beyond “Let’s spare this one woman whom I really like” and into “I need to sort my attitude out properly and treat women like human beings instead of being such a dipshit to them”.

So, Travis keeps hanging out with Abby. As you might expect, this means he just keeps feeling more attracted to her as he gets to know her better. We get a mention of details he’s noticing about her, which all seem to be about how she looks or smells rather than her personality. Well, apart from this one:

I even got a pretty good handle on which week I shouldn’t give her any extra shit, which, fortunately for Shepley, was the same week not to fuck with America. That way, we had three weeks to not be on guard instead of two, and we could give each other fair warning.

Apparently, as they’re women they obviously must suffer from PMT. And also apparently Shepley, despite having such a wonderful relationship with America who is the love of his life, can’t just discuss basic stuff like this with her directly.

We get a ‘NotLikeOtherGirls ™ about Abby’s lack of fussiness (good thing for you, isn’t it, Travis?). We learn that they get occasional questions about their relationship which Abby doesn’t like but which Travis deals with. Time passes and people speculate less, which sounds like the reverse of what would happen; the only way I can interpret this is that Trav’s got such a ‘fuck ’em and leave ’em’ reputation by now that people assume he can’t possibly be in a relationship with someone he spends this much time with. In which case, it becomes even less clear why so many women are chasing him and thinking he’ll date them. Probably because McGuire’s setting this up as some kind of stupid contest-type-thing in which every woman thinks she’s going to be the one to win him and Abby is the one who does because of her special specialness. Not a kind of plot I care for.

Meanwhile, Travis keeps fantasising about sex with Abby. For Travis, this means sex on the couch, because this is where he has sex, because of some kind of screwed-up issue about not letting women get close to him emotionally; so, when he starts imagining Abby in bed with him, he knows he’s got it bad and needs to stop focusing on her. So, does he decide to take a complete break from seeing her so that he can finally start to get over her? Hell, no. He decides:

The only cure was to stop thinking about her long enough to land my next conquest.

So he chooses a woman called Lucy, whose defining characteristics in Travis’s eyes are ‘fairly hot’, ‘never missed a chance to show off her cleavage’, and, wait for it… ‘very vocal about hating my guts’. This, of course, means that it takes him a mere thirty minutes to win her over and she’s ripping his clothes off almost as soon as they’re through his door. Yeah, McGuire, way to write your female characters as though you have any sort of decent opinion of women. This thirty minutes of winning over does, apparently, include ‘a tentative invite to the Red’; don’t know what ‘the Red’ is, but I’m guessing, given Travis’s history, that he does not mean to follow through on his invite. This, remember, is the guy who disliked Parker in the last chapter because he supposedly wasn’t being honest with women.

Travis has sex with Lucy and she leaves with ‘a smile on her face and disappointment in her eyes’, which sounds like a weird expression to have; I guess this is authorial code for ‘the sex was great but Travis won’t see her again’. Why would she have thought otherwise, given that she knew enough about Travis to hate him and thus can’t have had enough illusions to have expectations of him? Maybe the disappointment is in herself for sleeping with him, which would make complete sense.

Anyway, predictably, this does not help Travis get over Abby. Also, he actually feels guilty after having sex with Lucy, although we aren’t told whether this is because he regrets the way he’s treated Lucy or because he feels he’s in some way cheated on Abby.

The next day, he asks Abby to have lunch with him off-campus and she says no, saying she’s got to use her meal plan. (As far as I can work out, this seems to be a system where she gets meals on campus at no extra cost, or maybe reduced cost? If you’ve been to a US college with a meal plan, fill me in.) Travis doesn’t believe her but gives up on arguing the point because he’s having this argument via notes in the margins during their history lecture and is running out of space. I guess letting it go because he’s decided just to respect her decision and not hassle her about it would be too much for him.

In the cafeteria, Travis notices that there’s no orange juice left on the shelves and thus Abby hasn’t been able to get the can that she usually does. He therefore schmoozes one of the cafeteria ladies into getting one from the kitchen for him, by talking sympathetically to her about how hard she has to work here; this would have been nice if it hadn’t been so obviously manipulative. And if we hadn’t had this:

The cafeteria lady sized me up once before deciding I was going to cause her trouble, as most women did right before I made their thighs tingle.

If all these women are realising Travis is trouble, why are they so willing to have sex with him? I could buy it if it was just a few – people make foolish decisions sometimes – but he’s describing this as a regular thing.  I wish McGuire was writing this in a way that showed any kind of respect for her own gender.

And this:

I tried to subdue my disgust as the thought of her thighs appeared in the dark corners of my mind.

Travis, fer cry yi yi, if you seriously have this much difficulty thinking of women in a way that is not sexualised then YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. SEEK HELP.

Anyway, the saga of the orange juice cannot simply end with Travis handing it to Abby and getting thanked, because this means that Travis has actually made a minor effort to do something nice for someone female, and Brazil regards this as quite outrageous behaviour:

“Did she turn you into a cabana boy, Travis? What’s next, fanning her with a palm tree leaf, wearing a Speedo?”

It’s a slippery slope downhill, I tell you.

Travis worries that he does look ‘a little bit like a pussy’. This is how he sees the act of doing a very minor favour for a friend who happens to be female. Our romantic hero, ladies and gentlemen. Abby jumps to Travis’s defence. Unfortunately, she decides the best way of doing this is by joining in with the toxic masculinity.

“You couldn’t fill a Speedo, Brazil. Shut the hell up.”

And from Travis, we get:

“Now I’ve seen it all. I was just defended by a girl.”

Somebody call Ripley’s!

Travis abandons his lunch, walks out, and stands outside the cafeteria smoking. Would he be allowed to smoke right outside the cafeteria? Anyway, he stands there feeling ‘pissed off and humiliated, or pissed off that I was humiliated’. Apparently, he’s just spent the past two years giving his frat brothers a hard time any time they suggest wanting anything other than sex with a girl. (Two years? By my calculations in the last post, he should still be in the first part of his second year here.) Now, he’s the one who wants to do more for Abby, and instead of being able to use this as a chance to move on from the way he used to think and act, he’s getting angry about the whole situation.

Oh; while this is going on, girls are ‘pawing’ at him. Back to the Gauntlet of Brazen Hussies, I guess. Fortunately, this time we aren’t given any further details on this point.

Abby comes out, and Travis says he’ll walk her to her next class. Abby points out that he doesn’t have to walk her to every class, and Travis feels stung by this. He then sees an attractive woman in a short skirt walk past, and decides that he has to ‘give up’ and ‘finally draw a line’. He tells Abby he’ll catch up with her later, then goes to chat up the woman, who he thinks wants him:

She had crossed my path on purpose, hoping her short skirt and hooker heels would get my attention.

Because there’s no way a woman (except Abby, because she’s NotLikeOtherGirls(tm)) could exist in Travis’s presence without this meaning she wants to get his attention.

The woman knows Travis by reputation. For some weird reason I was briefly hopeful that she’d totally blow him off and tell him she wanted nothing to do with him. As you’ve probably realised, that was ridiculously optimistic; what actually happens is that she’s wanted a one-night stand with him for the past year and is totally up for getting him home and ripping his clothes off. I’ll spare you the details, of which many are given; bottom line is that Travis is seriously distracted at key points by thoughts of Abby but goes ahead and has sex with the woman anyway. Chapter ends.

Good grief; this was Chapter Four, and the equivalent storyline in ‘Beautiful’ is still only partway through Chapter Two. I’ve checked; this book only has three chapters more than ‘Beautiful’, so they should start syncing up better at some point soon (either that, or we’re going to end up with some extremely long ones at some point in this book to average out). Anyway, if you want to read Jenny Trout’s review of the equivalent scenes in ‘Beautiful Disaster’, her review of Chapter Two is here. I’ll try to get the next chapter of ‘Walking’ done as soon as I can.


  1. Jazzlet says

    I’d have been DNF-ing this by now, I admire your ability to go on reading such dross so you can critique it. I hate the whole NotLikeOtherGirls trope, and the associated shaming of the girls who are choosing to have a one off screw with the odious Travis.

  2. ridana says

    I had to stop and go look up “PMT” because even though I assumed it was PMS across the pond, my crossword-puzzle brain could not come up with what the T might stand for. Now I have Frank N. Furter’s saucy “he’s good for relieving my…tension” on repeat in my head. 😀

    As far as I can work out, this seems to be a system where she gets meals on campus at no extra cost, or maybe reduced cost? If you’ve been to a US college with a meal plan, fill me in.

    On campuses where the university is deemed in loco parentis freshmen and sophomores often have board included in their mandatory (i.e., you’re not allowed to live off campus unless it’s with family – not sure if Greeks got a pass on this) dorm fees. I had a sticker on my ID to show at the cafeteria, which was staffed by work study students, not cafeteria ladies (they may have been supervising back in the kitchen?). The fare tended to be heavy on the carbs (which may have changed since I went to school, but the story seems to be set in the 70s, attitude-wise), which gave rise to the “freshman 10,” the phenomenon of gaining ten pounds during your first quarter of all-you-can-eat meals you didn’t have to buy or prepare. Anyway, if she’s already paid for the meals, I can see why she’d want to use her cash elsewhere than food.

    This, remember, is the guy who disliked Parker in the last chapter because he supposedly wasn’t being honest with women.

    You know, this is totally plausible and in the hands of a better writer, it could be an interesting character study in how people rationalize or even fail to see their own hypocrisy. A lot of Travis’ thoughts are like this. But from your quote pulls and descriptions, it sounds like McGuire can’t manage the necessary nuances to suggest she even notices his self-serving attitudes herself, let alone find them problematic.

  3. NavigatorBR says

    From a 2013 – 2018 College student who lived on campus all those years and had a meal plan in Northwest Pennsylvania, at a state university.
    > Meal plans
    Basically, if you lived on campus, our college required you to buy a meal plan. This policy is typical of most colleges.
    We had “meals” and “flex”. Meals were worth a fixed monetary value, around $5.50, and you’re allocated a set number for the semester. Flex was a internal currency measured in dollars, that came with each plan, ranging from about $100 to $350 for a semester. Flex was basically cash, but restricted to on campus food and only through your student ID card.
    – Meals were restricted food prepared on campus, and limited in usage per day (4 meals a day, 2 before 3:30pm, 2 after).
    – Flex could be used for food prepared on campus or food/drinks prepared off campus, like bags of chips or bottles of soda.
    The main dining hall, “Van”, sounds similar to Eastern’s cafeteria. It was all you could eat, provided you didn’t leave the building. You also could not remove food, (ie: put a bunch of food in a container and walk out to eat later). The cost was 1 meal, or the value of a meal if you didn’t have one to use. After that go nuts, eat as much as you want.
    If the main dining hall was closed, or you wanted to get food to take back to your room, you ate at one of the… honestly don’t think we had a name for them, beyond “Rose” or “Pouge” the name of the buildings they were in for us.
    They operate like a mall food court, there were three to five little restaurant counters, you walk up and order what you want, then take it over to a cashier and pay for it like you would at a normal restaurant, every individual item has a price. If you wanted to get more food than a meal or two meals would cover, than you could use ‘flex’, cash or bank card to pay the remaining amount.
    Anyway, ‘meals’ were either ‘block’ or ‘week to week’ (forget the actual name). Block, you got a set amount, that would work out to about 2 meals per day, for the semester. You could distribute them as you wanted. If you wanted to blow through them in a month, you could. ‘Week to week’, you get like 14 meals every week, resetting on Sunday. If you get to Sunday and have 4 meals left, you lose them, they don’t carry over. If you get to Thursday, and used all 14, you had to pay for food with flex, or cash or bank card.
    The other thing is, you do pay for the meal plan as part of room and board, so not using your meal plan and buying food elsewhere is flushing money. Also it’s not cheaper, (the all you can eat dining hall is, technically) but you get ripped off by other dining options. Further the rules about using meals and flex were extremely irritating and a source of significant complaining my entire time in school.
    > So, Abby being annoyed about eating out instead of on campus makes sense, since even with block meals, if you didn’t use enough through the semester, you could end up with more meals than you could actually use before the end of the semester and you lose them. Also, Travis arguing with her over this is stupid as hell, because everyone knows how this works. Everyone.
    Even people who live off campus, because they typically either:
    A. Have a meal plan, despite living off campus. (Which, Travis likely does, since some colleges do offer off campus students plans that are cheaper with less meals, so they can eat lunch on campus, but cook for themselves for dinner & weekends.)
    B. Had one when they lived on campus and were required to have one.
    Hope this helps, if you got any questions, feel free to reply.

  4. Small jar of fireflies says

    The invite is tentative because if she doesn’t have sex now, he’ll need to take her out. Its a way of hinting that he cares about her as a person and what she enjoys. Fortunately, she takes the offer at face value and he immediately rejects her. He doesn’t have to worry about looking like he’s dating her, but not caring about her, while looking like he’s sleeping with Abby, but actually caring about her.

    Whew! Close one!

  5. Nomad says

    It’s a strange experience reading this. I didn’t go to college, but I read a book that partially took place when the characters were in college. My mind keeps wanting to cross over and expect similar themes.

    But that book was about a football player who went from casually sleeping his way through the female student body to accidentally falling in love with a gay man who tricked him into having sex with him.

    It’s also a much better written book, of course. But as I read this I keep forgetting what’s being reviewed and expecting to read something from that book instead of this one. I keep expecting those characters. So now I’m kind of expecting Travis to suddenly fall in love with a man and to have to come to terms with that instead of all this nonsense.

    Not that I’d want that character to have to deal with Travis… I’m too fond of him to want to do that to him.

  6. suttkus says

    “Would he be allowed to smoke right outside the cafeteria?”

    While I can’t claim great experience, every college campus I’ve been to has prominent “No Smoking” or “No Smoking within 30 feet of this entrance” signs near every entrance.

    And nobody enforces them because there’s always someone smoking right under the no-smoking sign. Personally, I want to put up a water gun with a computer camera that scans for cigarettes and then sprays water in the face of anyone using them near an entrance, but that’s just me.

  7. Dr Sarah says

    It is, however, cathartic to point out the problems, so there’s that to keep me going! I could do with a break, but I’d like to catch up to where Jenny Trout is in ‘Beautiful’, first.

  8. Dr Sarah says

    @ridana and @NavigatorBR: Thank you! That sounds pretty much what I’d expected. We had something similar when I was in halls of residence (where British uni students normally live in the first year) although rather less complicated; we got breakfast and dinner included in the rent. Although dinner was extremely early, which was a pain when I wanted to go into town (the uni buildings were walking distance from the town centre; halls of residence were a couple of miles away) so I often skipped that.

  9. Dr Sarah says

    Sadly, I think the invite was tentative so that he could maintain plausible deniability. From everything else in this book, I can’t imagine he’d ever have taken her out; he’d just have found someone else to have sex with.

  10. Dr Sarah says

    Wait, what… a book in which someone tricked the main character into having sex? Is there some way in which that’s less awful than it sounds, or was there some kind of redemption arc involved, or what?

    And, yeah, the writing in this book is appalling. I mean, it’s not just that it’s problematic; it’s clunky.

  11. Dr Sarah says

    Well, not just you; this (minus the computer camera) was also the solution my medical school’s student society came up with when we decided to make the weekly meetings smoke-free. We appointed a post of… um, I think the title was Fire Officer, whose job was to fire a water pistol at anyone who smoked in meetings after that. On the first meeting after this was instated, someone deliberately lit a cigarette (planned in advance with the Fire Officer, of course) so that the Fire Officer could make a point of shooting them with the water pistol. In fact, the rule was adhered to perfectly after that. Ah, memories…

    Anyway, thanks; good to know that, on this point at least, the book was realistic (since it sounds as though the answer to my question is ‘No, he wouldn’t, but that wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference’).

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