‘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

The beginning of this chapter is actually pretty good. Travis stays awake for as long as he can because he loves just holding Abby and doesn’t want to miss any of it; he’s thinking about how he’s not so tough after all. It’s another of those bits that would be really sweet if not for being within the context of this toxic disaster of a budding relationship. As it is, it’s hard to see any part of this as sweet while knowing just how dysfunctional the whole thing is; it’s like having someone try to sell you on how temptingly delicious the food is when you know full well it’s crawling with salmonella.

He inevitably does reach the point where he can’t stay awake any longer. He wakes up with his arm still round her and his legs on top of hers; she’s trying to wriggle free. By the way, according to ‘Beautiful’ the alarm is going off at this point. If so, it gets completely ignored in this scene.

He pulls her closer and tells her to stop it, he’s sleeping. Travis, let her go; you’re slipping back across the line into harassment. Also, on a more practical point, she’s waking up the morning after having been colossally drunk, and you never did put that bucket next to the bed that I suggested, so I’m not sure holding onto her when she’s trying to get away is such a great idea even from your point of view. Luckily for him though possibly disappointingly for us, Abby is not in fact about to puke; she just wriggles free, sits on the edge of the bed and sighs. He slides his hand across to touch her fingertips, which seems kind of odd because she’s facing away from him; wouldn’t her hands be facing the other way? He asks her what’s wrong and she just says she’s going to get a glass of water. He lies there with his eyes closed for a while because he’s worried she’s either angry with him or going to pretend this didn’t happen and he doesn’t like the thought of either option. Also, he’s got a pounding hangover. Eventually he hears Shepley’s voice and gets up, to find Abby making herself oatmeal with chocolate syrup. Abby, that is one impressive hangover recovery rate you’ve got there.

He comments on her upcoming birthday (I’d nearly forgotten this, but, yes, Shepley did mention it in Chapter Six; yesterday morning, from the narrative’s perspective). She’s a bit taken aback by this and says she’s not a big birthday person but she thinks Mare (America) is going to take her out for a meal and he can come too if he wants. Travis plays this cool despite, of course, being thrilled to be asked. It’s going to be ‘a week next Sunday’. Which reminds me that we don’t know what day it’s meant to be currently, although I’m deducing that it can’t be Monday or Tuesday since we know they had lectures both yesterday and the day before. Abby asks when Travis’s birthday is; April Fools’ Day, apparently, which can’t have been fun for him with four older brothers who were jerks.

Travis is ready to get dressed and drive her in (so they’re going into college? OK, that narrows it down to Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Unless it’s normal in US colleges to have Saturday lectures.) However, she’s getting a lift from America, which of course stings for Travis.

She had been riding to campus with me, and all of a sudden she was riding with America?

When has she been riding to campus with you?? This is the second night she’s stayed over, and she didn’t ride with him after the first night; she went in with America while he stayed and talked to Shepley.

The girls race off, and that, if you’re interested (or even if you’re not), is where Chapter Three of ‘Beautiful Disaster’ ends. Which also happens to be where – at this point – Jenny Trout’s recaps of ‘Beautiful’ are up to, so I have finally caught up. From here on, I am in uncharted, unreviewed territory. Which I have actually been looking forward to, because I want to see what it’s like reviewing a chapter without any preconceptions from reading Jenny’s reviews. (I know, I know, I could always have just not read her reviews if I wanted that… but, seriously, do you think I’m going to be able to refrain from reading a Jenny Trout post if one’s up? That’s like expecting me not to eat chocolate.)

So! Looks like it’s time for another heart-to-heart with Shepley, who apparently has the Dispenser of Wisdom role in this book. Shepley comes out of his bedroom and is surprised that America’s actually left without saying goodbye. Travis (the guy who was just using his love interest as a teddy bear)  tells him to quit being a crybaby. Shepley comes back with the obvious response about how Travis was acting last night, which Travis isn’t too thrilled about. They switch subjects to Abby’s birthday and Travis reports that Abby said she’s not into birthdays… and that his plan is to surprise her by inviting some of their friends over while America takes Abby out. I can’t work out from that whether the role of the friends in this is to be a party for Abby or to be company for the two men who can’t bear to be without their womenfolk for an evening, but if it’s the former, that’s a lousy plan for a celebration for someone who isn’t into birthdays. (Especially considering what their friends seem to be like.)

Travis then asks Shepley how he feels about a puppy. His plan is… to get Abby a puppy. And to keep it at their flat because she won’t be able to keep a puppy in the dorms. What the actual hell? Did McGuire get her plot notes confused with her list of ‘Top Things That Are Really Terrible Ideas To Plan As Birthday Surprises’?? The surprise party for someone who doesn’t want a lot of fuss was bad enough, but… Do not give animals as surprise presents! Especially when they’re of an age where they’re going to get less cute over time! This is how animal abandonments happen! OK, if the next sentence out of Shepley’s mouth is anything other than some variation on ‘Dude, what are you doing, this is a terrible idea’…

“Keep it here? Seriously? What are we going to do with a dog?”

Oh, boy, I have such a bad feeling about this…

Travis explains – hoo boy, brace yourselves – that because Abby comes from Kansas, he’s looked online and found a puppy that’s the same breed as Toto in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’. This is his reason for wanting to buy a dog for someone. I just. No. If this goes the way it looks like it’s going to go, McGuire is going to paint this as a super-cute super-duper-romantic gesture, when it actually involves a living conscious creature being given to someone who isn’t in a position to take care of it, with no thought as to whether they want it or to what the long-term plan is for taking care of it. Again: this is how animal abandonments happen.

This scene feels as though someone read the first chapters in McGuire’s draft and said to her “Yes, but I bet you can’t make this book even worse than it now is,” and she was all “Challenge aaaaaacepted!”

Shepley, I am now counting on you. Please, please, save this situation.

Shepley points out that it’ll crap everywhere and bark and whine. Good, Shepley, keep going, but be firmer. This just sounds like you’re going to let yourself be talked out of it any second. Travis makes some stupid quip about America doing that apart from the crapping. Shepley isn’t amused. Gee, I wonder why.

Travis says he’ll take it out and clean up after it and keep it in his room… OK, this is at least looking a bit better, in that he’s giving some kind of thought to what’s involved and some kind of commitment. I just don’t trust anyone who’s doing this because he thinks it’ll be a cute act that impresses his love interest.

“Think about it. You gotta admit it’ll win her over.”

Headbanging .gif


Shepley… oh, lord, Shepley picks up on this and says he can have the damn dog if he admits he has feelings for Abby. No, Shepley. No. The proper answer to that would have been anything to the effect of ‘For the love of all that is sane and sensible, do NOT buy animals in an attempt to win someone over!’ This really isn’t a point-scoring moment; it’s a talking-some-sense-into-him moment.

Fuck it. I should not have used up so much ‘Can’t even’ on the chapters that preceded this one. I should have paced my ‘Can’t even’. Now I can’t even can’t-even. Whatever. They have their power play thing with Shepley insisting on making Travis say that he likes Abby, more than that, really cares about her… you know, this would actually have been kind of a cool bit if it hadn’t been in the middle of a scene about buying a pet to win someone over. Oh, gods, this book.

Shepley heads off. Travis gets ready and heads off, thinking about how Shepley’s never going to let him live this down. He gets to his chemistry lecture barely in time; the lecturer looks annoyed but is apparently won over when he winks at her. Sigh.

After class, he meets Shepley outside the cafeteria and chucks his baseball cap across the lawn to annoy him. Adam – the guy who arranges the Fight Club fights – comes over and says he’s trying to set up a fight, so be ready for a phone call. Um… what kind of readiness is required for a phone call? Shepley says they always are; apparently he’s Travis’s unofficial business manager and gets him to the right place at the right time. How much organisation is required for that? However much it is, Travis apparently had it just fine last year, since from the beginning of the Shepley-and-America spinoff novella it seems Shepley’s in the year below Travis and wouldn’t have been there last year. Adam nods and heads off to wherever he’s going.

Shepley tells Travis that the boilers in the dorm have been fixed and so they’ll need to help Abby and America move their stuff back to the dorm that night. (I don’t think you need to, Shepley, since they moved it over to the flat just fine by themselves, but whatever. I guess it’s nice that you want to help America.) Travis, of course, is pretty upset by the prospect of Abby leaving. Before he can dwell on this, Abby herself turns up, laughing about something with America. Turns out someone in Abby’s class was staring at her for the whole lecture, or at least America says so; Abby insists she’s imagining things. And who is the someone? Why, none other than Parker Hayes. Who first showed interest weeks ago, according to the book, so it’s a bit odd that he’s only just started the staring-in-fascination thing.

I’d expected another irrational temper tantrum from Travis over this, but in fact he does manage to get his anger under control by mentally picturing himself tackling his temper and shoving it into a box. While this is hardly the best anger management skill out there, it’s somewhat better than him simply losing it, I suppose. He seems to be going more into Everything Is Awful Forever mode; he’s picturing this entire future in which Abby moves back to her dorm, goes out with Parker, settles down with him and lives happily ever after. He thinks Abby’s bound to be attracted to Parker as his parents are really rich, he’s going go to medical school, and he’s a nice guy ‘on the surface’. (That, by the way, actually is the order in which he lists Parker’s attractions, so if I were Abby and knew that that was what Travis was thinking I’d be pretty annoyed that Travis was assuming I was that shallow.) He despondently thinks about how Abby’s better off with Parker anyway, which, unfortunately for Travis (and for Abby, since, let’s face it, we all know how this story is going to end), is almost certainly true.

Meanwhile, they’re going into the cafeteria for lunch, despite having apparently had only one hour-long lecture this morning. Maybe it was an 11.00 start, or something? At least that’d help balance out the 8.00 start in the previous chapter. Abby notices Travis is quiet and asks him if he’s OK; he says he’s fine. A bunch of football players turn up and a guy called Chris Jenks tells Travis he heard Travis ‘bagged’ Tina Martin, who’s been raking his name through the mud today. Hey, Tina Martin must be the unnamed woman from Chapters Four and Five; good to have an actual name for her finally. Travis tells him to shut up and Abby chimes in with ‘Knock it off, Chris’, which is the last straw for Travis:

Even though it was crazy, I felt betrayed.

At least he’s got some insight. Unfortunately, it’s not matched by self-control. He tells Abby he can take care of himself, she starts to apologise, and he snaps back that he doesn’t want her to be sorry. And, this time, we do finally get in-text recognition of how out-of-line he’s being:

Of course she didn’t want to be around me. I was an infantile asshole that had the emotional control of a three-year-old.

Finally. That felt good enough that I stopped to read it over again. But… are you going to do anything about it, Travis? Is this going to be the start of a character development arc?

He storms out of the cafeteria again, heads to his bike, and drives aimlessly around for an hour before eventually pulling into his father’s driveway. OK, hadn’t expected that one. Though that’s mainly because I went to university a couple of hundred miles away from home and so never somehow think about people going to uni near their families.

His father is home. How old is his father, anyway? If Travis is normal age for his college year then he’s nineteen, but he is the youngest of five and they might have been spaced out a bit (except for Taylor and Tyler, obviously, as they’re twins)… yeah, I guess it’s possible his dad’s at retirement age. He comes out and gives Travis a quick hug before they go inside.

Dad checked out for a few years after Mom died. Thomas took on a lot more responsibilities than a kid his age should have,

THANK YOU for finally acknowledging this, narrative.

but we made do, and finally Dad snapped out of it. He never talked about it, but he never missed a chance to make it up to us.

I actually like this bit. Who’da thunk it.

Even though he’d been sad and angry for most of my formative years, I wouldn’t consider him a bad father, he was just lost without his wife.

I have to disagree with the idea that he wasn’t a bad father. This time, it’s not even nitpicking the narrative; it’s actually rather poignantly realistic that Travis would want to think the best of his father and make excuses for him. And it sounds as though Travis’s father is a sweet guy at heart who was overwhelmed by grief. But… Travis described him in Chapter Two as having ‘a drinking problem and a bad temper’, and here as ‘checked out for a few years’, ‘sad and angry’, and as leaving Thomas with far too much responsibility. Travis’s terrifying fighting skills supposedly come from his years of living with bad-tempered drinking Dad and four asshole older brothers. So, while Dad’s grief was no doubt genuine and intense, he also failed to deal with it well enough to be a father to five children who were also grieving; he turned to the bottle while neglecting his children, left his eldest son with far too much responsibility, took his anger out on the children, and failed to stop the older four beating up the youngest child (and in fact might well have contributed to the violence himself). Yeah… however understandable his reasons, he was a bad father.

They sit down and his dad spots that something’s wrong and asks him about it. Travis admits there’s a girl he likes. His father asks whether he loves her.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know. I mean… how do you know?

His smile grew wider. “When you’re talking about her with your old dad because you don’t know what else to do.”

OK, it’s official… there is one bit of this book that I actually like.

Travis says he doesn’t think it can be love because he only met her a month ago, which I also like because a) it’s a sensible sentiment and b) it gives us some idea of a timeline, which is pretty sorely lacking in this book for the most part. His dad says he’ll take his word for it. Travis says he doesn’t think he’s good for her and he thinks she’s been burned before by someone like him. Dad sits there nodding and echoing key words back like the how-to-do-it example from a communication course. However severe his shortcomings as a father while Travis was growing up, at least he really does seem to be stepping up to the plate now.

In the midst of this, Trenton turns up, pleased to see Travis there. Trenton is apparently the brother who’s been hardest on Travis but also the one he’s closest to (which would work well if we were talking normal sibling ups and downs, but the fights he had with his brothers were supposed to be his preparation for the kind of beat-’em-unconscious fighting he does at Fight Club, so I feel like this kind of heartwarming we-love-each-other-deep-down theme doesn’t fit). He’s been shopping for their dad’s groceries and he and Travis put them away while jostling and elbowing each other affectionately because that’s how they roll.

Trenton says he missed Travis at the Red (the club Travis and the others went to) ‘the other night’ and that Cami saw him with a girl ‘the other night’. Um… it wasn’t ‘the other night’, it was last night, and if Trenton heard this from Cami he must have been there after Travis left (unless he knows Cami from elsewhere and spoke to her this morning), so you’d think Trenton would be able to keep straight which night it was. He asks Travis what he’s been up to and picks up that something’s wrong. Dad tries to distract Trenton by asking him about work; work sucks, apparently. Does this mean Trenton’s finished college or that he never went? I really want to know the age spacings in this family. If Trenton’s finished college, it means he’s at least three years older than Travis. Also, what kind of hours does Trenton’s unnamed job have? It should still be early afternoon at this point; Travis stormed out of lunch, rode around for an hour, and had a short conversation with his father. Trenton seems to have finished work for the day long enough ago that he’s dropped by the shops on his way home. He hasn’t been working a night shift because he also mentions having left the rent cheque for Dad that morning, so he was around then. This doesn’t fit.

All right, I am an obsessive geek… I went to Amazon and checked out the beginning of the spinoff novel about Trenton (all the brothers get spinoff novels) and apparently he started college but dropped out (after some kind of Tragic Accident) and he now works at a tattoo parlour. Also, his Love Interest is Cami the bartender. Whose full name is Camille Camlin, because McGuire apparently can’t write a heroine who doesn’t have a bizarrely alliterative name. Seriously; I have checked out the other Maddox brother spinoffs and every one of them has a heroine with this kind of alliterative name. Jenny Trout reviewed a different book of McGuire’s a few years back which I read about in her archives, and the heroine in that one was Rory Riordan.

OK, I am getting way off track here, back to this book. If Trenton is working at a tattoo parlour, why is he apparently knocking off at lunchtime? Do people only get tats in the morning or something? But I guess at least the ‘other night’ thing now makes more sense; if he’s in a relationship with Cami, he probably did see her this morning and hear then about her seeing Travis.

(Also, the actual answer as to why Trenton’s around having apparently finished work for the day is – of course – that McGuire messed up her time awareness again. Trenton asks Travis if he’s staying for dinner – which he isn’t – and I glanced ahead and, when Travis leaves after a little more conversation, it’s already dark. So she’s actually imagining this conversation taking place in the late afternoon/early evening, and forgot to adjust the timing of Travis’s conversation with his dad accordingly.)

Travis tells their father “She’s a pigeon. Definitely a pigeon.” Dad’s eyes brighten, so apparently he knows of Travis’s whole Vulture/Pigeon dichotomy. Shame he isn’t trying to talk him out of this worldview, because it’s poisonous. Trenton realises Travis likes someone, and grins about it, but Dad shuts him up. Travis says goodbye and heads off back to the flat, where America tells him that Abby’s asleep in his room. I had a moment of ‘Whoa, seriously is it that late?’ but then glanced ahead again and it seems she’s having a nap, not in bed for the night.

We now get a conversation where Travis is showing some actual self-awareness  – he tells Shepley and America that he knows he shouldn’t have talked to her that way, admits he’s been pushing her as far as he can, says he knows Abby deserves better but he can’t walk away – but Shepley and America try to talk him out of his doubts and persuade him.

“Abby gets it, Trav. Don’t beat yourself up,” Shepley said.

America nudged my arm with her elbow. “You’re already going to the date party. What’s the harm in asking her out?”

Yeah, what could possibly be the harm in going out with a violent man with anger management issues, no respect for boundaries, and a mile-wide streak of misogyny?

(Also, when the hell did Shepley do a one-eighty on the prospect of the two of them getting involved and become all Team Trabby? Last we heard on the subject, he was utterly dead set against it because of the chance it’d blow things for him with America.)

“You’re closer to her type than you know,” America said.

The problem isn’t Travis not being Abby’s type. The problem is that, right now in his life, Travis really is lousy relationship material. Shepley and America aren’t even encouraging him to try to work on himself and change. They’re just encouraging him to go out with her regardless.

And, sadly, it’s actually working. Travis knows America’s really protective towards Abby (actually, the narrative really hasn’t shown us this, but whatever) and doesn’t think the girls would ever encourage each other into anything that could hurt them, so, when America tries to persuade him that it’s OK for him to go out with her, he actually listens and starts feeling hopeful.

All this is interrupted at this point:

The wooden boards creaked in the hall, and we all froze. My bedroom door shut, and then Abby’s footsteps sounded in the hall.

Do the boards in the hall have clairvoyant sound effects? Maybe they’re made from reannual trees.

We get the line about how she’s beautiful in spite of bedhead and smeared makeup. She says she was out for five hours. (I assume that having had this line in ‘Beautiful’ is how McGuire wrote herself into the situation of having Travis jump forward in time the way he did when he was with his family, but it’s a shame; she could have sorted it out pretty easily by having him and his dad do something together that took up an indeterminate amount of time, prior to the conversation about Abby.)

Travis leads Abby back to the bedroom and apologises to her for being, and I quote, an asshole earlier. Good, Travis… but is this going to be accompanied by any kind of change? Important to know.

Abby tells him she can handle his temper tantrums. Oh, no, Abby. Don’t do this. Travis should be handling his own temper tantrums, and, so far, he isn’t doing this. And, just to say it again, that’s on top of all the other problems about boundary-crossing and thinking it’s funny to endanger your life with really unsafe driving. And you probably don’t even know about all the misogyny because you aren’t privy to his inner thoughts. You’re escaping that for the time being because he’s got you mentally labelled as the exception, the Perfect Paragon of Pigeonness… but how long is that going to last, in a guy with Travis’s attitudes? Virgin-whore dichotomies aren’t a healthy worldview long-term.

“I don’t know why you put up with me, and I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t.”

This would be a lovely line if we didn’t know how bloody true it was; it really isn’t a good idea for Abby to be putting up with him.

There is a moment of Growing Sexual Tension when they seem on the verge of kissing each other, which gets interrupted by the phone. ‘Tis Adam, calling with details of the fight, which is in ninety minutes. Ah, that’s why Travis had to be ready for the phone call; because he gets so little warning of the fight, so he has to be ready to head off at very short notice. Travis is going to be fighting someone called Brady Hoffman. He comments that it’ll be an ‘easy grand’; nice to know how much money he gets for these. He leads Abby back down the hall and announces to the other two that the fight’s on. Dun-dun-duuuunnnnnhhhhhh! Chapter ends.


  1. says

    Re: the bit about the dog: this book often seems to stray into Poe’s Law territory. Like, if you wrote a book deliberately satirising romantic fiction tropes, it would be indistinguishable.

    (Also, his brothers get their own spin-off novels?! Wow, I can’t imagine anyone being that invested)

  2. Liz says

    “You’re closer to her type than you know,” America said.

    You, America, my dear, are a shit friend. You know that Travis is a dick. You know that Abby has some sort of Big Secret/Tragic Past. And you can see that Travis is a similar to a guy involved in said Big Secret/Tragic Past. Here’s what you should be doing, as someone with an outside perspective who has that kind of insider knowledge:
    1) NOT encouraging Abby to sleep with him (which she does in Beautiful)
    2) NOT acting like it’s so cute that he’s in to her
    3) NOT encouraging the a-hole to ask her out
    4) You SHOULD be sitting down with Abby and having some very serious conversations about all the red flags she should be seeing right now

    Although, I have to say, I have this sneaking suspicion that the Big Reveal about Abby’s past is going to be something stupid and totally inconsequential to the story – like she’s really been an alien this whole time.

  3. Ralph Musgrave says

    A bit off topic this, but you might want to sign this petition about curbing the privileges enjoyed by religion:

  4. Dr Sarah says

    @Ralph Musgrave:

    Hi. Sorry, I’ve had to edit the link out as I can’t tell whether it’s safe or not.

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