‘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

Abby and America start dancing; Travis watches them and thinks about how sexy Abby looks. (I’m thinking about the risks of dancing in stilettos while drunk, but I suppose some people must manage it without spraining an ankle.)

America glares past Travis in disgust and sneers “It looks like Las Vegas just threw up on a flock of vultures.” Travis looks round and sees it’s some of Lexi’s sorority sisters. (Lexi, in case you were losing track, is the woman Travis inwardly sneered at and then dumped on the floor in Chapter One, right before thinking about the importance of respect.) Travis ignores them and concentrates on drinking. I… guess I’ll wait to see whether that little interlude turns out to have any plot relevance whatsoever, because right now it just feels like McGuire thought “Oops, it’s been pages since I last got in a dig at women! Put one in, quick!”

Travis orders two more beers; Cami opens them and passes them to him, so I guess she must be the bartender, which answers that question from the tail end of the last chapter. Wait, hang on. The reason her name was mentioned was because she was the person who alerted people sitting at the bar that Travis was arriving, so that they could move out of his way. It was instantly accepted that anyone who was in a seat that Travis Maddox wanted clear would get out of the way, because of Travis being, in his words, a ‘psychotic asshole’. (Brief aside: as I pointed out in the last chapter, that should be psychopathic, not psychotic.) In other words, this guy’s got a reputation for trouble-making and violence that the bartender knows about. Why the bloody hell is he not barred from here?

The woman standing next to Travis – someone called Brooke – thinks he’s bought the extra one for her and picks it up. (Without so much as checking with Travis?) Of course, it’s actually for Abby, so he grabs it back from her and gives it to Abby. He cracks a joke about how he wouldn’t buy a beer for ‘a chick’ at a bar. Abby holds up her bottle with a ‘sour look’ (I’d have done it with raised eyebrows and a pointed expression).

“To being the only girl a guy with no standards doesn’t want to sleep with.”

Travis asks her if she’s serious, which is pretty much my reaction as well. Abby was explicitly clear in the first couple of chapters that she did not want to sleep with him and did not want him trying anything on. Now she’s complaining about him not trying? What even?? This is playing straight into the destructive ‘if they say no, it means they really want it anyway’ myth. It’s a bloody welcome mat for rape culture.

Travis, however, does not point this out. Instead we get:

“First of all… I have standards. I’ve never been with an ugly woman. Ever. […}”

Well, thank goodness you cleared that one up. That was definitely the most important point here.

“[…] Second of all, I wanted to sleep with you. I thought about throwing you over my couch fifty different ways […]”

….Underarm, overarm, shot putt…??

“[…] but I haven’t because I don’t see you that way anymore. […]”

And… because she said no? Does that reason count at all in your eyes?

“[…] It’s not that I’m not attracted to you, I just think you’re better than that.”

Abby smiles smugly at the thought that he thinks she’s too good for him. Travis says he can’t think of a single guy he knows that’s good enough for her (which meant I had a momentary reaction of ‘Some of the married ones, maybe, shame they’re not available…’ which of course wasn’t what he meant at all. But that’s just me.)

Abby thanks him and finishes drinking the beer. Travis stands up and pulls her over to the dance floor, despite her saying she’s had too much to drink and is going to fall. He gets round that little problem by pulling her up close against him to dance, and she moves against him while dancing and it’s all very sexy, apart from the bit where he’s making a move on someone who’s falling-down drunk and who has made it clear when sober that she does not want to get sexually involved with him. You know what? People sometimes make decisions when drunk that they’re likely to regret when sober, and taking advantage of that fact is a scummy thing to do.

The dancing gets steamier and sweatier; Abby runs her fingers over his chest and stomach, then turns round and presses up against him, and he kisses her behind her ear. She spins round and glares at him, then storms over to the bar and starts drinking again. The reason why she’s furious, we find out, is because she’s suddenly snapped back to being worried that people will think she’s sleeping with him. Travis laughs and says he doesn’t give a damn what people think. She tells him she could never get drunk enough to let him get her on that couch. He’s now furious because he’s ‘never treated her like that’.

She led me on, and then I gave her one or two little kisses on the neck, and she freaks out?

1. Travis, you just used the phrase ‘She led me on’ non-ironically. In addition to being a total jerk, you are now also a bloody cliché.

2. The narrative here is focusing on the immediate situation; Abby was quite happily dancing up against Travis, therefore it isn’t such a big deal for him to try kissing her on the neck, look at how she’s overreacting. And, you know, if that really was all that was going on, I’d agree. (About the reaction level, that is; it’s completely fine for Abby to decide that she wants to draw the line at sexy dancing and still say no to neck kissing, it’s just that this level of how-very-dare-you fury would be disproportionate if that really were all that was going on.)

However, what that framing completely overlooks is the backstory; Travis instigated the down-and-dirty dancing in the full knowledge that Abby a) was so drunk she could barely stand up, and b) was extremely clear, when sober, that she did not want to sleep with him. The minute he got an opinion from her on that subject that he liked better, he ignored how drunk she was and started making moves and pushing the limit as far as he could. While this doesn’t seem to have been a deliberately calculated thing – more a case of what the marvellous Captain Awkward refers to as ‘The Couch of Plausible Deniability‘ – it’s still shoddy low-down behaviour, because it’s a recipe for causing misery and regrets. Travis, excuse me if I’m not feeling sympathetic that in this case those regrets took the form of fury aimed at you. That seems like a pretty appropriate place for fury to be aimed.

Megan (Travis’s ongoing casual hookup from Chapter One) turns up.

“Introduce me to your girlfriend,” Megan said, smiling.

She knew damn good and well Abby wasn’t my girlfriend. Ho 101: If the man in your sights is on a date or with a female friend, force him to admit to lack of commitment. Creates insecurity and instability.

Ack, I can’t even. Just not even going to try to deal with this one. If anyone else wants to pick it apart in the comments section, they’re welcome.

Travis tells her Abby isn’t his girlfriend (after doing that dramatic slide-the-bottle-down-the-bar thing that gets done in, I don’t know, Westerns or something? Some films), then leads Megan to the dance floor and starts dancing with her in much the same way that he was just dancing with Abby. Things are getting pretty hot (in both senses of the word; they’re soaked with sweat) until he spots Abby smiling flirtatiously at someone called Ethan Coats. Travis leaves Megan where she is and heads straight across to Abby.

Remembering what he’d gotten away with the year before, I balled my hand into a fist, standing between them, with my back to Ethan.

He asks Abby whether she’s ready and she pushes him to one side and says she’s talking. He asks if she even knows this guy; she says he’s Ethan. Travis mentally refers to Ethan as a ‘sick and twisted fuck’, and ignores his attempt at a handshake (though how he even sees it isn’t clear, given that he’s staring fixedly at Abby this whole time and supposedly had his back to Ethan). Abby unenthusiastically introduces him to Ethan by his first name, and Travis, glaring menacingly at Ethan, rather pointedly gives his full name, which Ethan definitely reacts to because he’s seen Travis fight. He describes this as “[…]I thought I was about to witness someone’s death!” and Travis stares narrowed-eyed at him and replies “You wanna see it again?”. Ethan laughs awkwardly, absorbs that Travis isn’t kidding, and leaves.

So. Let’s talk about that scene for a moment. Travis has just reacted to the sight of Abby talking to another man by becoming immediately angry and aggressive. From Travis’s inner narrative, we know that the motivation for his behaviour here is that he has genuine concerns over something Ethan has done in the past. (From reading Jenny Trout’s account of this scene in ‘Beautiful’, I know that Travis tells Abby, when she raises the issue, that Ethan was previously arrested on a charge of sexual battery which was then dropped.)

What McGuire has just done here, therefore, is written a scene in which Travis is acting in a way that would normally be a serious red flag but in which this is excused in-text; we’re given information that puts a different and more reasonable complexion on why Travis would be acting this way in this particular situation.

This… is problematic. Not insurmountably so, by any means, but still something that needs to be surmounted. The problem is that, when fiction shows us examples of people acting a particular way, that subtly – usually subconsciously – shapes our expectations of people in real life. When an author shows us a situation where the book’s romantic hero acts this way but it’s justified, that can make us more likely to make excuses if we actually see someone acting like this, rather than treat it as the massive danger signal that it normally is.

The way for an author to salvage this, if they actually have to put such a scene in at all, is to show in-text awareness that this behaviour is the sort of thing that would, under more typical circumstances, be horribly out of line. Let’s imagine that Travis really is acting solely out of concern for Abby here; what would you expect him to say to Abby next? Probably something like “Shit, I’m sorry about that. The thing is, that guy was arrested for sexual assault last year, and even though the charges were dropped I’m seriously suspicious he did it. I was scared for you and I panicked. Are you OK?”

(Better still, as RodeoBob pointed out in the comments on Jenny’s post, would be for Travis to explain this to Abby when he first came up to them, instead of just running Ethan off, or possibly to challenge Ethan directly with it. And – as Jenny pointed out – for Travis to let the bartender know so that there’s someone there who can keep an eye out and give any other women he chats up the heads-up. Even if he doesn’t do any of that, though, we need something to show that Travis gets the idea that this behaviour would be out of line in any other situation and needs explaining, and to show him as genuinely concerned for Abby rather than just being possessive and jealous.)

Here’s what we actually get as Travis’s next line:

“Are you ready, now?” I snapped.

Now, this isn’t a terrible line in and of itself; it’s just a bad one in this situation. Where we need an explanation of his behaviour and preferably concern towards Abby, all we get is irritation. (And irritation over something unreasonable. I mean, he’s decided he wants to leave, but that doesn’t mean he can just expect her to be ready to leave and be annoyed when she isn’t, which is pretty much how this line is coming across.)

Abby, not surprisingly, calls him an asshole. Travis, again, could have reacted to this by saying that he gets how awful this looks and explaining his concerns to her… instead, he just says that he’s been called worse. (No shit, Sherlock.)

Travis whistles to get Shepley’s attention, which I would not have thought would work that well in a club, but apparently it does; Shepley sees his face ‘and immediately knew that it was time to leave’. What’s Shepley actually doing at this point? He seems to be oblivious to the whole thing going down between Travis and Ethan (so it doesn’t sound as though he was sitting next to them), but still hears a whistle from Travis over the noise of the music and the people (so it doesn’t sound as though he was on the dance floor or busy smooching America).

I used my shoulder to cut through the crowd, shamelessly knocking over a few innocent bystanders to let off steam

What even…?!?

until Shepley headed us off and took over for me.

At what? Knocking over innocent bystanders?? “Hey, thanks for mowing down so many of the rabble! I can take it from here if you need a break.”??

They get outside. Travis tries to take Abby’s hand but she jerks it away.

I wheeled around and yelled in her face.

Of course you did, Travis. Of course.

“I should just kiss you now and get it over with! You’re being ridiculous! I kissed your neck, so what?”

So you did this after she made it clear that she didn’t want you trying it on, and after you’d promised that you wouldn’t do so, and as part of generally making moves on her when she’s blasted drunk that you know damn well she wouldn’t be allowing if she were sober, and all that is shitty behaviour.

On top of that, she’s now got another reason to be furious; she’s just seen Travis apparently getting aggressive and threatening towards a man just for talking to her. Which is behaviour that she should be furious about, given that he still hasn’t explained to her why he was acting this way.

And on top of that, he’s now reacting to her anger about the kiss by yelling about how he ‘should’ kiss her again when she’s now once again making it completely clear that she doesn’t want that. So, no, Travis; even when you think people are being ridiculous, it is not OK to threaten to sexually assault them, which is what your rant here boils down to.

Abby leaned back, and when that didn’t create enough space

Didn’t create enough space? Get out of her personal space, Travis! What is it with you?

she pushed me away. No matter how pissed I was, she knew no fear. It was kinda hot.

Travis finds it unexpected that Abby isn’t scared of the way he’s acting. This means that even he realises that he’s acting in an aggressive and intimidating way, in a way that is normally going to scare other people. This shouldn’t be a ‘Wow, how sexy it is that someone isn’t scared of me’ moment; this should be a clear warning sign that he needs an anger management course ASAP.

Abby tells him she’s not his fuck buddy. Travis is ‘stunned’ by this comment; he’s been doing everything he can think of to keep her from thinking this, because he thinks she’s so special. Yes, yes, I know it’s very important that we’re regularly reminded of how special and NotLikeOtherGirls ™ Abby is, but that shouldn’t actually be your main reason for not trying to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you; your main reason should be that sexually harassing someone is very unpleasant, and potentially very damaging, for them and thus is really bad behaviour that should be avoided. Which is still the case even when you have deemed the woman in question to be a mere NotSpecial, LikeOtherGirls woman. Women who don’t meet your personal standards of specialness still get the right to not be sexually harassed.

How much different from everyone else could I treat her?

More differently than you have been? Even knowing she isn’t interested, you’ve still been holding her hand, putting your arm around her, and making further moves on her as soon as you got a chance. You’ve now all but threatened to kiss her forcibly again when she clearly doesn’t want that. Last night you pressured her into sharing your bed. For all that you’ve backed off from actually having sex with her, you’re still pushing the limits any time you think you can get away with it.

“I never said you were! You’re around me 24/7,[…]”

Huh? No, she isn’t. You’ve spent quite a bit of time together, but you’re apart some of the time as well, so it isn’t 24/7. Words mean things.

“[…] you sleep in my bed […]”

Oh, you mean that one time she slept in your bed last night after you pressured her into it?

“I have never treated you with anything but respect, Pidge!”

Oh, bollocks you have, Travis. Last night you were going through her stuff and inspecting her underwear. Would you consider it respectful if someone did that to you, Mr Won’t-Even-Let-Other-Women-In-His-Room? Then you barged in on her in the bathroom, and stayed when she yelled at you to get out, and then barged in a second time and treated the whole thing like a massive joke. Let’s face it; if another man treated Abby that way, you’d flip out at the thought.

Oh, and you just saw her talking to someone who might be dangerous and shifted straight into ‘run him out of here’ mode instead of ‘explain the situation to Abby so that she gets to make informed decisions herself here like the adult she is’. Which even Abby realises is a problem, at this point:

“No, you just treat me like your property. You had no right to run Ethan off like that!”

Travis tells her about the sexual battery charge that was made and dropped last year. Still no acknowledgement that Abby’s anger actually has a point here, since he didn’t explain any of this to her at the time or afterwards; no, the implication from the text is still oh, look, Travis was right all along, Abby was wrong to doubt him.

By the way, we get no further detail about what happened or why Travis thinks the charges were true. I was interested to see whether we would get any explanation here, because one point that was raised over at Jenny’s blog is that the whole ‘he was arrested for sexual battery’ line sounds suspiciously as though McGuire wrote the running-Ethan-off scene without explanation and someone pointed out to her that, hey, you can’t just leave your romantic hero showing behaviour that’s actually a red flag for abusiveness/control freakery, so rather than rewrite the scene she threw in that line as an explanation. I have no idea whether this is true, of course, but it’s possible; so I wanted to see whether she’d added any more detail now we’re getting Travis’s POV. While it is now clarified (from the couple of sentences I quoted earlier) that Travis did at least genuinely believe this and wasn’t just inventing it to excuse his behaviour to Abby (which wasn’t, of course, clear from ‘Beautiful Disaster’, as that’s all from Abby’s POV) we still don’t get anything more about it, so it does sound suspiciously as though McGuire just threw this excuse in without plotting it out properly. I might of course be completely wrong about that, but… that is the way it’s coming across from reading it.

Anyway, instead of Abby raising any questions about why he didn’t just explain this to her at the time, she yells at him that in that case he and Ethan have got something in common. Travis gets pretty angry about this.

Abby paused in thought, and her hesitation made the anger melt away. She was the only one that had that effect on me.

I’m sure this is meant to be romantic (Look how special Abby is! She’s the only one with the magic anger-melting properties that can soothe our sexy hero!), but it’s actually worrying. If the only thing stopping Travis from unleashing his anger is Abby’s special specialness, then what happens when she says or does something that causes her to fall off the pedestal Travis has her on and he abruptly stops seeing her as so special? In real life, what would happen in that situation would be that he would lose his temper with her. And it would be nasty.

Travis, if you’ve got anger at this level and there’s only one other person who can calm it down, GET HELP. You need to be able to manage your own anger, because your love interest won’t always be able/willing/available to do it for you.

Abby admits she only said this because she was angry with him. So… massive boundary-pushing isn’t enough to get her to name his behaviour as sexual harassment, but being angry with him is enough for her to yell accusations of sexual battery that she doesn’t believe are true. I… can’t even.

Travis yells a not-pology about how, yes, he kissed her, but he’d been drinking and she’s beautiful and he’s SORRY, right, and she should get over herself. This, remember, is Travis supposedly after his anger had melted away. Our romantic hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Abby smiles and homes in on the “You think I’m beautiful?” bit. Yes, Abby, absolutely the bit to focus on about this whole scene. Travis thinks it’s a stupid question. I agree, though probably not for the reason he thinks. He assures her she’s gorgeous, she beams and says “Let’s go”, he smiles back and says she’s a pain in his ass. I refer you back to my sentence before last.

Travis puts his arm round her neck. Travis, she’s been yelling at you because you kissed her and she doesn’t want people to think you’re together… seriously, you think this is the right thing to do right now? No sign of her objecting to it. He says she’s making him crazy. They go home. Abby goes straight to the shower. Travis again walks in when she doesn’t respond to his knock, to leave some clothes there. This time they’re some of his for her to wear, because he didn’t go through her bag this time. This is not, alas, because he has suddenly realised that that’s a shitty thing to do; it’s because he’s too drunk.

Abby comes in and falls into bed and they stare at each other for a minute. Travis sees her eyes dropping to his lips. Unbelievably, he actually has a moment of decency and common sense and decides he shouldn’t do anything because she’s incredibly drunk. While that would have been a great thing to decide earlier in the evening instead of starting the whole dirty dancing thing, it is definitely better late than never.

By the way, wouldn’t it be a really good idea to have a bucket by the bed at this point? I wouldn’t want to risk not having one if it were my room.

Several minutes later, Abby says his name and they exchange a few words and then she leans over and hugs him. He kisses her forehead and tells her she’s the most confusing woman he’s ever met. This scene would actually be sweet if a) they weren’t so bloody messed up and b) this wasn’t taking place when he’s manipulated her into sharing a bed with him.

She makes some quip about him scaring off the only guy who approached her that night. He holds her arm when she tries to pull away and tells her that she needs to be more careful. That is his response to seeing a sexual predator moving in on her and charming her. He’s framing it as Abby not being ‘careful’ enough. Travis, is that because you think she should have magic predator-detecting radar, or because you think she just shouldn’t respond to men chatting her up at all? Do tell us. While you’re at it, tell us how ‘careful’ you think it is to sleep in the bed of someone who’s shown that he can’t respect boundaries. I’d love to know your views on that as well, Travis.

“[…]And now you expect me to apologise for running him off?”

Travis, we don’t expect you to apologise for anything because you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’re a tosspot. We expect that you’re going to keep on being a tosspot. But if you do want to know what you should be apologising for… try the whole ‘making moves on Abby when she was drunk’ thing, because that was out of line and you really should apologise for that.

Abby says she doesn’t want him to apologise and it’s not about that. Travis asks what it’s about. Abby says being drunk is the only excuse she has. Travis works out that she wants him to hold her (OK, that was good deduction; I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on in this conversation).

Travis says he should say no ‘to prove a point’ but he’d hate himself later if she never asked again. They cuddle up and he says she doesn’t need an excuse, she just has to ask. Which would be sweet and touching if we were in a different book; as it is, it just feels like the eye of the storm of dysfunction that is their relationship so far.

Chapter ends. OK, let’s check… No, we are STILL not at the end of Chapter Three in ‘Beautiful’. FFS, this is taking forever.

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