‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Nine


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.

You might well at this point be wondering how long I’m going to keep on with this particular novel without taking a break to do something else (such as, for example, the other review project I promised I’d work on). If so… well, good question.

What I like the idea of doing, you see, is snarking a section of ‘Walking’ and then reading Jenny’s snark of the equivalent section in ‘Beautiful’; I think that would be fun. So, my initial ambition was to try to get a chapter ahead of Jenny before taking a break. What I hadn’t realised was how far out of sync the chapters are. I mean, this is Chapter Nine, but the story in ‘Beautiful’ is still only part way through Chapter Four. So I’d like to get to whatever point equates to the end of Chapter Four in ‘Beautiful’, but Potato only knows where that’s going to end up being in ‘Walking’. Anyway, my plan at the moment is to keep going with this one until I either get there or lose it completely and run screaming into the night.

Content warnings

  • Pathological possessiveness
  • Anger problems

 

Chapter Nine: Crushed

When we left our intrepid hero, he had just had the phone call telling him a fight was on and had passed this on to the others. Shepley – Travis’s unofficial business manager, you might recall from the last chapter – promptly starts texting the people on his list. America, beaming at the prospect of seeing another fight, drags Abby off to freshen up (which seems like a hugely wasted effort; the beginning of ‘Beautiful Disaster’ described the last fight as being in a mouldy cellar packed with sweaty people, and that was before Abby got sprayed with blood). Travis also thinks this is an unnecessary fuss, though for slightly different reasons; this is meant to illustrate how casual he is about the fights. As far as he’s concerned, he’ll do his thing and earn ‘the next few months’ worth of rent and bills’ and that’ll be that. (We learned in the last chapter that he gets a thousand dollars for this; is that really a few months’ worth of rent for a two-bedroom apartment with enough left over to pay bills? That seems cheap, if so, but maybe it’s actually realistic; I don’t know what rents are like in the US.)

Shepley runs in ready to go. America charges into Shepley’s room to get changed; Abby runs back in wearing ‘tight jeans and a yellow top’. At which Travis asks if she’s trying to get him killed. The fatal effects of tight jeans and a yellow top might not be instantly obvious to you, but, fear not, Travis goes on to explain; it’s because her breasts (not the word he uses) are too obvious in that shirt and he’ll be distracted from the fight by worrying about who’s looking at them.

‘You have got to be kidding me’ .gif

via GIPHY

Call it sexist, but it was true.

Actually, I think ‘frightening’ is the word I’d use. This isn’t even about thinking he’d be distracted by the sight of her breasts, which is what I thought the issue was going to be. This is him wanting her to change clothes so that no-one else even looks at her breasts. This is what he’s already like at a point where they are not even going out together.

You could carpet your garden with a red flag that size.

Abby, rightfully angry, points out that Travis was the one who was all about not caring what anyone else thought.

She really didn’t get it.

And if she did, Travis, she’d be out of there so fast you’d be staring at the Abby-shaped hole in the air.

Travis tells her that’s a different scenario. Of course it is, Travis; the previous scenario was one where having Abby care what other people thought would adversely affect things for you, and this scenario is one where you’re the one worrying about something other people (might) think, so of course you treat the two differently. Of course.

Travis looks at her breasts a bit more and starts feeling tempted to cancel the fight so that he can spend the night trying to persuade Abby (who, let us all remember, has previously made it completely clear to him that she does not want to get sexually involved with him) to let him grope her. He manages to resist the temptation, although I’m not clear whether this is because he’s recognised that that would be sexual harassment or because he doesn’t want to miss winning the thousand dollars. (Well… I wouldn’t place a bet on it being the former.) He asks her please just to change and then pushes her into his room to do so. Abby, this would be such a good moment to walk straight out again and tell him you think it’s best if you just don’t go. Or just walk straight out again and keep walking until you’re out of his apartment and never come back. But, alas, we just get an irritated yell of ‘Travis!’ from inside the room, sounds of things being flung about, and then she emerges having changed into a T-shirt, which apparently means Travis can just about bear the thought of having her out in public and around other men. Gah. I can’t even be bothered to think of a burqa joke about this because I don’t even want to crack jokes about this. Moving on.

Shep drives America to the venue, while Travis takes Abby on his Harley. Hooooold up. When he’s done that previously, he’s driven far too fast and then treated it as a huge joke when she gets angry about it. This has only been shown once in this book, but from ‘Beautiful Disaster’ we know that he did the same thing again yesterday afternoon. But she doesn’t seem to have any problems at all with accepting a lift for a third time.  Will ‘Beautiful Disaster’ address why the hell she was OK with this? I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, the place is locked up and Travis and Abby have to climb in through an open basement window at the back, which he tells her is the ‘VIP entrance’. Did everyone else have to crawl through the sewers to get in, or something? Abby hates the thought of climbing down into a dark room that way; Travis insists that she do it and he’ll catch her, which he does. He tells her she falls like a girl. Oh, our aching sides.

They get to the room next to the one where the fight’s going to be held, which seems to be where Travis is supposed to wait until it’s time to make a dramatic entrance. Adam is ‘yelling over the noise with his bullhorn’. Are there no security guards in wherever this place is? You’d think someone would hear the noise and investigate. Travis explains to Abby that they’re waiting here for Adam to give his spiel before they go in. Abby’s pretty anxious about what’s going to happen next; Travis tells her to follow him out as he doesn’t want her going out there alone, and to stay by Adam as he’ll make sure she doesn’t get crushed in the crowd. Surely Adam’ll be busy refereeing the fight? And, if this is likely to turn into a crush situation, surely it’s not safe for any of them to be there?

Abby still looks nervous. Travis wonders whether that’s because she’s started caring about him. I suspect it’s more likely to be the talk he’s just given her about the risk of being crushed; I mean, I’d be pretty nervous at that prospect. However, he tries to reassure her by telling her that if it makes her feel better he’ll win straight away without even letting Brady ‘get one in for his fans’. It seems he normally lets his opponents land one punch before defeating them, to make it look more like a fair fight. Abby’s incredulous at the thought of him letting someone hit him. She’s also incredulous at the thought of Travis being able to stop people hitting him when he doesn’t want them to do so. I’m not totally sure that makes sense, but I can’t be bothered to figure it out. More importantly, we are at a Plot Point. Travis jokes about whether she’d like to bet on that (on whether he can avoid getting hit at all, in case you were losing track, which I certainly was)… and inspiration strikes. When Abby says she’ll take the bet, Travis leaps in with some actual stakes:

“If you win, I’ll go without sex for a month.” She raised an eyebrow. “But if I win, you have to stay with me for a month.”

Contrived plot has been contrived, ladies and gentlemen!

Abby asks what kind of bet that is when she’s staying with him anyway. For some reason, she hasn’t heard the boiler had been fixed. How has Shepley heard and not Abby? Wouldn’t all the residents from the hall get notified straight away? Even if neither Abby nor America checked their e-mail or whatever before Abby’s nap, wouldn’t Shepley have mentioned it to them at lunch? Even if she didn’t hear, why was she expecting the broken boiler situation to last a month? Whatever. Travis winks at her and tells her the boilers in her hall (dorm, sorry, it’s a dorm) are now fixed. Abby takes the bet, saying it’ll be worth it to watch him staying abstinent.

Travis kisses her on the cheek ‘letting my lips linger against her skin for just a moment longer’ despite, again, the fact that Abby has made it clear she doesn’t want a relationship.

With the plot duly set up, they go into the main room. (I guess Adam must have conveniently just reached the right point in his spiel? It’d be awkward if Travis was actually walking in during Brady’s introduction.) Travis catches Adam’s eye and nods towards Abby and we have one of those moments of plot-moving telepathy where Travis is happy that this equates to a conversation in which Travis has actually asked Adam to keep an eye out for Abby and Adam has agreed. Apparently Adam was once the ‘undefeated monster in the Circle’ himself before he took over running the fights, so Travis is happy he’ll be able to keep Abby safe. I thought the worry was a crowd crush situation, not having to fight off assailants?

Fight time! Travis dodges all the blows, managing at one point to dodge at just the right moment to get Brady punching a concrete pillar. He knocks Brady down and they’re done. Oh, no! Abby isn’t in the room any more! Travis starts shoving his way through all the people who are trying to congratulate and high-five him on his win.

“Get! The fuck! Back!” I yelled, pushing harder as panic came over me.

Panic. That’s his reaction to Abby having left the room. I mean, yeah, it’s not the safest of environments (and, BTW, is probably being made decidedly less so by Travis shoving like that in a room so crowded he already believes getting crushed by the crowd is a real possibility), so I could go with ‘worry’ or ‘anxiety’… but panic? That’s a scarily unhealthy level of dependency.

He runs into the lantern room, which I assume is the room where they were before. What is a lantern room, anyway? My guess when I read this was that it’s the small room at the back of lecture theatres where the slides are projected from (or were projected from in the days when lectures were on slides, which I suppose they probably aren’t any more, so I’m showing my age here), but I couldn’t find anything to confirm or refute this. All I could find on ‘lantern room’ is that it’s the name for the room at the top of lighthouses, but I assume that isn’t the case here. Whatever it is, it’s dark and Travis can’t find Abby for a moment, but then she bumps into him and he throws his arms round her and promptly starts going off on her for having scared him. Abby says she’s glad he’s back.

Her sweet smile made me forget everything else

It apparently also made the author forget that they’re currently supposed to be in a room so dark he only managed to find Abby when she bumped into him. I’m not sure how he’s meant to be seeing this smile.

Adam stomps in, furious with Travis. I thought at first this was because of the whole thing with not letting Brady hit him, which wouldn’t make a lot of sense, since I wouldn’t have thought that was something that would have a significant effect on people’s desire to watch/bet on the fight. To be fair, though, it might be the way Travis charged off when his adoring fans wanted to mob him and darned near got people injured in the process, all of which it would make sense for Adam to be annoyed about, so I’ll give McGuire the benefit of the doubt here. Anyway, Adam gives Travis his money and then leaves. (I don’t know why Travis gets his money on the spot this time while he got it the following day last time he had a fight. Because plot?)

Travis tells Abby that she’ll need more clothes. Abby seems remarkably unfazed by the fact that she’s effectively just signed up for a month of living with a creepy boundary-crosser who has an obvious interest in her that she (supposedly) doesn’t reciprocate. So, with this and the lingering cheek kiss to which she didn’t object and the hugs… it looks as though the plot is meant to have moved from the ‘Abby has no intention of going out with Travis’ part to the ‘Abby is starting to feel interested in Travis’ part. The problem is, it’s hard to see how we got there. Granted, we’re seeing all this from Travis’s POV, but we should still be seeing things that would make Abby start to feel she’d been wrong about him. From reading Jenny’s reviews – and bits of ‘Beautiful Disaster’ that I read to see how they matched up – this doesn’t seem to happen in ‘Beautiful Disaster’ either. We just don’t get that lovely sense of attraction gradually growing.

What we have had – and what seems to have been the turning point – is Abby getting narky because Travis wasn’t showing an interest in her. McGuire might well have meant there to be more to it than that, but what’s coming across in text – to me, at least – is that Abby’s mind changed largely because she was getting jealous over Travis not being interested. That’s an incredibly unhealthy basis for a relationship.

Abby apparently bet on Travis; they pass Adam again and he gives her her winnings. (No, I don’t know why he didn’t do this when he was talking to Travis before, but whatever.) Travis helps her up out of the window and they walk over to Abby’s dorm to get her clothes. She asks why he wants her to stay with him; he shrugs and says everything seems better when she’s around. Shepley and America drive Abby’s stuff back so that Travis can take the bike back. Travis tells her he’s glad she was here today at the fight. It’s another of those moments that would seem sweet if it wasn’t in such a horrible book.

Abby puts two and two together and realises that Travis knew about the boilers being fixed and that was why he was in such a bad mood earlier. Yes, Abby… and this is the sort of thing you can expect, in the future, whenever he’s in a bad mood about anything. This leopard’s showing no indication that he’s going to change his spots.

That said, Travis does at least drive back ‘slower than I had driven . . . ever’, so maybe he’s finally obeying speed limits? He stops at traffic lights, anyway… although that’s so that he can rest his hand on Abby’s hand or on her knee, which she doesn’t seem to object to because of us having just skipped the whole bit of plot that would have involved Abby gradually changing her mind about him and gone straight to ‘Abby is now fine with this’. We have, in effect, got a story that seems to be illustrating the ‘women don’t really mean it when they say no’ myth; a poisonous, destructive message hidden in the apparent sweetness.

They get back to the flat, with Travis walking on air at the prospect of Abby staying with him… until they’re talking to America, who excitedly tells him that Parker invited Abby to the Sig Tau party that weekend, which America is clearly very pleased about. What the hell is America playing at? Earlier this same evening, she was encouraging Travis to ask Abby out; now, she seems thrilled at the thought of Abby dating Parker (and oblivious to how her mention of this might affect Travis). I don’t know whether McGuire is deliberately trying to make America look like a major shit-stirrer or whether she’s just losing track of her own plot yet again. Anyway, Travis, of course, is not happy about the thought of Parker trying anything on with Abby, so he says he’ll go to the party as well.

Shepley is in a mood about something, although it isn’t terribly clear what. Travis speculates that maybe Shepley’s worried about how he’s going to treat Abby, thinking that that would make sense. It certainly would, so I’m guessing it’s not going to be the reason.

Travis goes to take a shower (this amused me because Jenny Trout quipped in her reviews that she was going to rename this book ‘The Showering’ because of the number of showers people seem to have, but in this case I guess it makes sense, as I’d expect him to be pretty sweaty after that fight), but first tells Abby not to go to sleep yet because he wants to talk to her about something. He has decided… dun-dun-DUUUNNNNNHHHHH… to tell her how he feels about her.

That sounds like a good plan at this point, but he needs to think about what he’ll do if she doesn’t feel the same way. He’s just arranged for them to flat-share, which in practice seems to mean bed-share, for the next month. If he confesses his feelings for her and she tells him she just sees him as a friend, that’s going to be awkward as hell. If that happens, he’d be better off cancelling the bet and finding a way to steer clear of her so that he can have the break he needs to get over her and recover. Which, of course, won’t happen. (To be fair, that’s realistic; most of us don’t act quite that rationally when faced with an all-consuming crush.)

Anyway, Travis showers, thinking about what he’s going to say to her:

She was here for the next month, and that was the perfect time to prove to her that I wasn’t who she thought I was. For her, at least, I was different, and we could spend the next four weeks dispelling any suspicions she might have.

With the way you’ve treated her so far, Travis, you’re right on track to prove to her that you aren’t the decent guy she thinks you are and to dispel any suspicions she might have that you’re actually worth being with. (The problem, of course, is that McGuire is fixed on the idea that casual sex is The Big Bad Thing, and is oblivious to the real problems with so much else of Travis’s behaviour. So, the questions of whether he can change his attitudes or his boundary-pushing behaviour are ignored, and instead this is treated as an issue over whether he can give up casual sex.)

Travis is all keyed up for the Big Conversation… and then he hears a conversation in the hall. America is sounding ‘desperate’:

“You promised, Abby. When I told you to spare judgement, I didn’t mean for you two to get involved! I thought you were just friends!”

If she didn’t mean them to get involved, what the hell was with the whole intervention-type conversation in which she encouraged him to ask Abby out on a date?

Shepley is still in a mood. America explains to Abby that she just can’t convince Shepley that what happens between Abby and Travis won’t affect her relationship with him. Well, nice that she’s finally trying to convince him of this, but, again, how does this fit with Shepley apparently being fine earlier with the thought of Travis liking Abby?

Abby, it transpires, overheard Travis say earlier that he doesn’t feel that way about her.

Abby shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’ll never happen. He told me he doesn’t see me like that, anyway. Besides, he’s a total commitment-phobe. I’d be hard-pressed to find a girlfriend outside of you that he hasn’t slept with, and I can’t keep up with his mood swings. I can’t believe Shep thinks otherwise.”

Every bit of hope I’d had slipped away with her words.

So, it seems we are going to have the ‘plot tension set up by major mutual misunderstanding which could have been avoided by people just USING THEIR WORDS, DAMMIT’ plotline. Uggghhhhh. I hate those. (I also assume someone over on TV Tropes has given them a snappier name; can anyone help me out here?) Not only is this a horrible pain of a plotline, it also, in this case, makes absolutely no sense. The things Travis has just overheard Abby saying are almost exactly what he already knows she thinks:

  1. She doesn’t think he’s interested.
  2. He’s slept with a lot of women and isn’t interested in commitment.
  3. His mood swings are a problem for her.

He was literally just about to go and explain to her that he was interested and that he planned to change his sleeping-around ways. He recognised that she wouldn’t automatically know these things and that he was going to have to explain them. But, for some reason, hearing confirmation that she believes the things he already knew she believed about him (of which the second and third are perfectly true, by the way) has caused him to change his mind completely about trying to persuade her otherwise.

For a few seconds, the pain was unmanageable, until I let the anger take over. Anger was always easier to control.

Thus does Travis demonstrate that Abby would indeed be far better off avoiding him.

Anyway, we get another round of America insisting that Abby’s obviously attracted to Travis and Abby pointing out the problems, which is cut short by Travis coming out of the bathroom and telling America to let it go.

Abby’s eyes met mine. She didn’t seem embarrassed or sorry at all, which only pissed me off more.

She’s said things about him that are completely true, in a conversation that he shouldn’t have been eavesdropping on. He’s getting angry with her about this.

Ask yourself this: How would he react if they actually were romantically involved and she raised a problem about his behaviour with him? Is he going to be this angry every time she has an issue with his behaviour? That is never, ever, going to be a functional or healthy relationship.

I’d stuck my neck out,

You haven’t done a damn thing, Travis. You were about to talk to her, but you haven’t yet.

and she slit my throat.

That’s how Travis interprets Abby telling a friend why she doesn’t see a relationship with him working out. She’s correctly pointed out some issues with his behaviour that would indeed be a big problem in a relationship and that he knows would be a big problem in a relationship. She’s indicated that she doesn’t think he’s interested. That’s it. That’s what Travis is feeling so horribly wronged and betrayed about. He’s not just disappointed, he’s angry with her. For not saying the things he wanted to hear. That’s enough for him to be furious.

So, Travis goes back to his room and paces around in uncontrollable fury for a while before deciding to go to the Red and ‘try to relax with a few shots’, because his coping skills are clearly still so great and healthy. By the way, we seem to have this slightly odd quirk of the book listing exactly which few items Travis grabs to take with him every time he goes out; this time it’s his sunglasses (don’t ask me why, it’s supposed to be after dark), bike keys and riding jacket. Abby asks him pleadingly where he’s going and he just replies curtly ‘Out’, and the chapter ends.

Yes, ‘Beautiful Disaster’ is still in Chapter Four at this point of the plot. Yes, I will keep slogging on.

Comments

  1. ridana says

    It depends on what part of the country you’re in, but I think a grand wouldn’t cover more than a couple months in TX (where I believe the author resides), if he’s splitting the cost with Shep. If they were in San Francisco, that might get him about 5 days. But this is another one of those odd details that keep suggesting that the author is catfishing her book jackets and she’s really a retiree writing about her own college days. Btw, a dorm can also be called a residence hall (often with names like Smith Hall or whatever), so I think the terms are interchangeable.

    I’m not sure how he’s meant to be seeing this smile.

    UltraBrite toothpaste!

    America’s a mess, isn’t she?

    I keep thinking that despite not being a polished author, McGuire actually is aware, at least to a degree, that this relationship is fucked up. We’ve been given hints that Abby has some dark secret in her past, and there must be a reason the books have Disaster in the titles. But along with the “‘no’ will mean ‘yes’ if you keep pushing” trope, I also fear this is headed for “true love can fix your rotten man” territory, which is just as toxic if not more so. We’ll see…

  2. NavigatorBR says

    Agreement with Ridana over the rent. It’s almost impossible to know if this number makes any sense without a state, much less specific-ish location. Granted the drive to and from (and I don’t recall anyone *ever* walking it in the book) suggests it’s not located within easy walking distance of campus, which would help lower the price provided it wasn’t in a densely populated area, which it doesn’t sound like it is based off descriptions of the area when driving.
    .
    Same with the ‘Hall’ term. My university had “residence halls” and were called “Rose Hall”,”Dearborn Hall”, etc, but you are correct that “dorm” is the more common term in conversation (i.e. “I’m going back to the dorm.”), at least in my experience.

  3. ShifterCat says

    As I mentioned on Jenny’s blog: why is there a concrete pillar in the fighting circle? One-on-one fights don’t require a huge amount of space, so it’s kind of ridiculous to suggest that they found this basement which could hold a crowd, but somehow doesn’t give enough room for two guys to circle each other unimpeded.

    I suspect Maguire was thinking of action movies in which the characters chase each other around through an abandoned warehouse or whatever.

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