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 currently being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout. Links to that review and other reviews of Jenny’s can be found here.
- Alcohol (mis)used as a coping mechanism
- Swearing (mine and the book’s)
Chapter Ten: Broken
This chapter opens with Travis sitting at the bar, drinking, smoking and being emo. When the rush quiets down and bartender Cami has a minute, she pours him a shot of Jim Beam. That really doesn’t sound like a stellar idea for someone who’s already drunk, obviously maudlin, and has a reputation for scary anger levels. Actually, I could strike everything in that sentence after ‘already drunk’ and it still wouldn’t sound like a stellar idea, but… you know, at least less of a terrible one. Slightly.
Anyway, apparently she’s doing it to get him to talk about what’s on his mind. She asks him about ‘the girl’, because apparently she assumes that’s the issue because heteronormativity, and he talks about Abby a little. He describes her as a ‘demonic pigeon’, which is not a phrase I expect to hear terribly often in my life. That said, I just googled it out of curiosity and it turns out to be the name of a Warhammer Games guild in Athens, the username of someone on the Deviant Art website, the nym of someone who keeps a website of what appear to be very NSFW stories, and a YouTube video about a pigeon with a fatal disease. So, um, that was interesting.
Anyway, we also get this:
“She hates me.”
“No, I heard her tonight. By accident. She thinks I’m a scumbag.”
“She said that?”
Let us, for comparison, quickly recap what Abby actually said:
“[…] 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. […]”
Abby lists a couple of specific things about Travis that she says bother her to the point where a relationship wouldn’t work, and Travis’s takeaway from that is ‘She hates me and thinks I’m a scumbag.’ Followed by uncontrollable fury. And then getting drunk.
This, again, is poison to a relationship. If he is this hypersensitive to any negative feedback from Abby, then, when she does go out with him (let’s face it, we all know it’s a ‘when’), how is he going to deal with those times when she needs to say ‘Hey, dude, need you to stop doing that thing you’re doing as it’s a no-no for me’? And there’ll be times when that happens; there always are in a relationship. Part of keeping a relationship healthy and functional consists of being able to accept and take on board such comments without going into a whiney meltdown over how horribly upsetting it is for you that your partner doesn’t think you’re the perfectest thing ever.
Anyway, Cami tells him he ‘kinda’ is a scumbag, but maybe he can change and be a better man for Abby. (And then pours him another shot. What the hell, Cami?) Travis reluctantly agrees that he’s a scumbag and says he doesn’t know whether he can change, and he probably can’t change enough to deserve Abby. Cami points out that Abby can be the judge of that. Travis asks for more beer and Cami tells him she thinks he’s had enough, which, Cami, is something you should have thought about before pouring him those whiskeys. Travis tells her to just fucking do it. Scene break.
Travis wakes up in bed and finds it’s early afternoon, his mouth tastes horrible because of the hangover, and Abby’s not there. He goes to look for her and finds her asleep on the recliner, which sounds sensible to me. And… oh, noes! Travis sees two empty condom wrappers! No, they’re not Abby’s, though that would have been a cool twist. They’re Travis’s. The memories of last night rush back to him; two girls got persistent in chatting him up and he eventually offered to take them home and have sex with them both. They were both enthusiastic about the suggestion, so he brought them back and, as he puts it, ‘bagged’ them.
(No, in case you were wondering, there’s no sign of the girls now, so I guess Travis did his ‘nice to have fucked you, bye’ routine and chucked them out. I hope they got home safely, but, sadly, we’ll probably never know, since it’s unlikely they’ll be given any role beyond that of being an obstacle to the Travis/Abby romance.)
Travis, horrified, realises Abby must have heard him with the girls, which he thinks will put her off staying. Frankly, if your behaviour so far hasn’t done that… Anyway, he sits there in a panic, thinking he’s blown it with Abby and trying to figure out how to fix this.
Of course, this does not result in him deciding that he needs to apologise, talk with Abby properly, or go to anger management therapy so that in future he has better responses to ‘I heard something I didn’t like’ than ‘get blasted drunk and make self-destructive decisions’. Instead, Travis frantically wakes Shep up to ask to borrow his car. And also to ask Shep to try to stall Abby if she wakes up, to keep her from leaving before Travis gets back. (BTW, America is also asleep, so that means all four of them have slept till early afternoon. Even given that they’re students on what I’m assuming is now a weekend, that seems a bit excessive. Maybe that’s just me.)
Travis’s plan, it transpires, is to try to make things up to Abby by buying her stuff she might like. This is going to be such a healthy relationship, isn’t it?
The Charger could barely keep up with the speed I wanted to go.
So, not only is he speeding again, but he’s doing it in someone else’s car. Git.
Travis runs round the shop grabbing everything he can see that Abby likes, or might like, or has previously mentioned, or… anything, really. Even he recognises that this is incredibly stupid. However, he can’t think of anything else to do, so he pays for it all, speeds back to the apartment, and runs up the steps with the stuff. Hooray! Abby’s still asleep. (Well, this seems to be assumed; America and Shepley are up, and they’ve got the television on mute.) Travis starts putting stuff away as quietly as possible while listing some of the things he’s bought:
“When Pidge wakes up, let me know, okay?” I asked softly. “I got spaghetti, and pancakes, and strawberries, and that oatmeal shit with the chocolate packets, and she likes Fruity Pebbles cereal, right, Mare?” I asked, turning.
- This is sounding weirdly like a non-custodial divorced parent trying to figure out how to make their child happy on the first weekend of staying over.
- America and Shep are on the living-room sofa, and Travis seems to be having this conversation with them while unpacking stuff in the kitchen, so it sounds as though they have one of those open-plan places where it’s all one room. This has nothing whatsoever to do with anything; it’s just a design I like, so I’m sitting here thinking ‘Hey, cool’.
When he turns round, he sees Abby’s awake, staring at him, and looking pretty awful. Travis starts babbling about the stuff he’s got, which includes ‘some of that pink foamy shit that girls shave with’, a hairdryer, and a pink loofah. Apparently Jenny was spot-on when she joked about renaming this story ‘The Showering’. Also apparently, Travis’s idea of ‘stuff Abby might like’ seems to overlap quite a bit with his idea of ‘girly girl stuff that I know all girls like because of them being girls’.
Oh, noes! Abby’s luggage, all packed, is waiting by the door! Travis is gutted.
“Your stuff’s packed.”
“I know,” she said.
America glares at him and asks if he actually expected her to stay. It’s sad that, out of the many excellent reasons why Abby might indeed not have wanted to stay with Travis, the one that everyone seems to be reacting to is ‘he had mutually consensual sex in his own apartment’. I mean, yes, it’s stupidly self-destructive behaviour from the point of view of the fact that he wants to go out with her, but since he isn’t going out with her it’s not actually bad behaviour. (Except possibly for being noisy when people were trying to sleep, which could be a legit issue but which isn’t mentioned at all and so probably isn’t what anyone’s seeing as the problem.)
Travis tells her he’s so sorry and doesn’t even know what to say. It’s actually kind of a touching moment. America stands up and tries to pull Abby up to leave. Travis takes a step towards them:
“So help me God, Travis! If you try to stop her, I will douse you with gasoline and light you on fire while you sleep!”
I’m torn between ‘Yay!’ and ‘Seriously, this is the point at which you decide to stand up against Travis?’ It seems like a case of ‘right reaction, wrong time’.
Shepley tries to calm her down, and Abby finally breaks into all this by declaring emphatically that she’s fine. Shepley asks what she means, and Abby is basically all yeah, Travis brought women home, so what? Which is kind of a double-edged sword for Travis, because on the one hand she’s apparently not angry, but on the other hand the fact that she is apparently this unconcerned about him sleeping with other women has unfortunate implications for his hopes of romantically pursuing her, so he does have a bit of an ‘ohhhh, shit’ moment. Look, Travis… just focus on the fact that she’s not angry. You’re already doing better than you’d hoped, here.
America’s surprised by Abby’s reaction. Abby points out that Travis can bring home whoever he wants. I assume that this is going to turn out to be Abby pretending she doesn’t care when actually she’s gutted, but, for all that, she’s absolutely right. Honestly, this whole ‘You done her wrong!’ plot does not make a whole lot of sense in terms of where we are in the story now.
“You didn’t pack your things.”
She shook her head. “No, and now I’m going to have to unpack it all. I still have to eat, and shower, and get dressed,” she said, walking into the bathroom.
So I assume it was America who packed her stuff for her. That seems to be crossing the line between ‘caring and protective friend’ to ‘pushy’. It also makes Abby come across as weirdly passive; what did she do, just sit there saying nothing while America packed her stuff against her wishes?
Travis taps on the bathroom door… hey! He’s actually stayed on the outside instead of barging in! So… some improvement, I guess? Next goal to aim for on your quest to get to Minimal Level Of Human Decency, Travis; wait until someone’s out of the bathroom before having important conversations, rather than expecting them to shout through the door.
Anyway, he asks whether she’s staying and she says a bet’s a bet and they have a bit of back-and-forth about this; she says she’ll leave if she’s released from the bet but she’ll stay otherwise, and Travis is torn between not wanting to make her stay against her wishes but not wanting her to leave either, so… you guessed it… he says the bet stands, she says she’s staying. I would be angry with him for trying to make her stay, except that it’s hard to take seriously the idea that the bet is making her do anything; it’s not as though it’s a legally binding contract or a blood pact in which their souls are forfeit to the devil if they renege. So I assume that this is Abby’s way of indicating that she actually wants to stay. America seems to feel differently; she growls at Travis that he’s a selfish bastard, then storms off into Shepley’s room.
Travis knocks on the bathroom door again to give Abby her robe and slippers (I assume that’s short for ‘bathrobe’ and we haven’t launched into some sort of Harry Potter crossover fanfic)… hang on. The book says he got these things from his bedroom. Why weren’t they packed with the rest of her stuff? Anyway, Abby tells him to put the stuff on the sink, which doesn’t sound like a great place to put a dressing-gown and slippers. Although she probably doesn’t realise that’s what he’s brought, since all he said was that he’s brought some of her stuff; she probably thinks it’s her washbag or something.
Travis comes in to leave the stuff there as requested, and starts explaining to her why he was upset. Travis, she’s trying to take a freakin’ shower. Grow a bit of patience and let the poor woman finish her shower undisturbed.
“I was mad. I heard you spitting out everything that’s wrong with me to America and it pissed me off. […]”
Actually, Travis, she barely scratched the surface on the subject of what’s wrong with you. You got off lightly.
“[…] I just meant to go out and have a few drinks and try to figure some things out, but before I knew it, I was piss drunk and those girls…”
Oh, come off it. You sat there for I don’t know how long taking drink after drink. That wasn’t ‘before I knew it…’ that was a series of lousy decisions on the taking-more-drink point. Try owning what you did.
Travis’s voice tails off at the ellipsis above, and he just tells Abby he felt sick when he found her on the recliner instead of bed and saw the condom wrappers. Abby says he could have just asked her to stay instead of spending all that money. Travis says he doesn’t care about the money; he was just scared she’d never speak to him again. Abby says she didn’t mean to hurt his feelings, and he says he knows she didn’t.
“[…] And I know it doesn’t matter what I say now, because I fucked things up…just like I always do.”
That sounds as though you need therapy. I’m not even being snarky about it; that is actual medical advice. CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) is extremely helpful at learning how to challenge those sorts of negative self-beliefs. It’s a heck of a lot healthier than simply dumping them at the feet of your partner, or would-be partner. There’s a real risk here that you could end up trying (unintentionally) to shoehorn Abby into the role of unofficial (and untrained) therapist, and that’s unhealthy for her, for you, and for any relationship you hope to have.
We do, however, have one good thing here, or rather one thing that could have been bad but was avoided. Abby could, at this point, very easily have felt obliged to rush in with reassurances (“No, Travis, you don’t fuck things up! You didn’t fuck this up! Everything’s fine! Really!”) but she avoids this completely. And, in fact, we do get something good; she actually focuses on something important. She asks him not to ride his bike drunk any more.
Bloody hell… I’d completely missed that one. Which wasn’t too bright of me because I actually listed off the stuff he’d taken with him on his trip to the bar, and, yes, it included bike keys. He deliberately took his bike to the bar when he was planning to drink alcohol, kept drinking steadily in the knowledge that he planned to ride back, and then did ride back when he was totally rat-arsed. Travis, you’re a dick.
Travis feels surprised that this is Abby’s priority here. Since this is an example of someone in this book actually focusing on an important problem instead of on Oh Noes, They Had Casual Sex, I can well understand his surprise; this is unprecedented. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.
He wants to apologise again and tell her how he feels, but ‘the words wouldn’t come’. So he just agrees that he won’t drive drunk again, and then he goes out and leaves her alone.
I have had a peek at ‘Beautiful Disaster’ and… oh, no, Abby is blaming herself for Travis being angry. Abby, sweetie, no. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t blame yourself when Travis loses it. You can spend forever examining your behaviour and picking apart what you could or should have done differently… but it will still be Travis’s responsibility to manage his anger, not yours to try to avoid it.
Anyway, what I was actually looking in ‘Beautiful’ for was to see whether the story had reached the end of Chapter Four, which is where I wanted to get to before taking a break. And it has! Although, of course, it’s smack-dab in the middle of a chapter in this book and probably a weird place to take a break, but whatever. I’m more than ready to work on something different for a bit, so I’m going to set this aside, work on the other book review I promised to do and probably some other stuff as well, and come back to this when Jenny Trout has Chapter Four of her review up.