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 was being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout until she rage-quit over McGuire’s behaviour.
- Homophobic slur
- Animal neglect
Chapter 14: Oz (wait, didn’t we already have a chapter called ‘Oz’? With a better author I’d assume this was innovativeness; after all, there’s no compelling reason why we should be hidebound by unnecessary traditions of having one chapter title per chapter. With McGuire, I’m fairly sure it’s just that she didn’t bother to keep track.)
Anyway, back again! When we left our intrepid couple, Abby was passed out drunk on a bathroom floor and Travis was sitting with her and failing to get her medical help. Despite this, she survives. You knew she would, didn’t you? Really don’t take that as a sign that you could try this at home. Or anywhere.
It’s the following afternoon (looks like we skipped over the whole bit with Abby waking up on the bathroom floor with a horrible hangover). Dashi was playing table tennis, Peso was writing home, the Vegimals… oh, sorry, got it mixed up with the beginning of ‘Octonauts’. America is off somewhere with Abby, Abby is trying to persuade her not to dump Shepley, and Shepley’s worried that it won’t work. Shepley, DUMP HER. I know it hurts and I know she seemed lovely, but she was an irresponsible jerk to her friend and then got nasty to you for calling her out on it.
The puppy has survived its night of neglect – and Travis has at least taken it outside and fed it – but it’s understandably feeling lonely and miserable and is whining in its box. Travis did at least give it a towel so it’d have something soft, but unfortunately he lacks the empathy to pick the poor thing up and cuddle it. It falls asleep just before Abby and America get back, because plot.
Abby has apparently talked America into taking Shepley back; the two fly into each other’s arms. Travis and Abby go sit on the couch together and Travis pulls Abby’s legs into his lap, which seems a bit intimate considering they’re still supposedly at the ‘friends’ stage rather than at the ‘romance’ stage, but then that’s hardly anything new in this book. Travis gets the puppy for Abby. I’d cherished wistful hopes that she would call him out big-time on the idiocy of giving a pet as a present, but, no, of course that’s not how McGuire writes it; Abby loves the puppy and she’s just as thrilled as Travis hoped. Oh, and she goes along with the whole Kansas/cairn terrier thing and calls him Toto. So, the plot has well and truly established that giving animals as presents is indeed a wonderful romantic idea that will make your love interest very happy and that no practicalities need be considered, thus setting up an ethos that is well known to contribute to cases of animal neglect and abandoment. McGuire… on behalf of animals everywhere, I would like to point out that you are a thoughtless, irresponsible fool.
Travis tells her the puppy can live at his flat while she’s living in her dormitory and he’ll take care of it. Great; this poor puppy is now stuck in the care of someone who doesn’t have the sense or empathy to cuddle him when he’s unhappy. Abby starts cooing ‘I think you need a nap, Toto. Yes, you do’ when the issue is obviously that she’s desperate for a nap, so, here we go with the theme of irresponsible teenagers focusing on their needs instead of the puppy’s.
Travis takes Abby back to his bed for a rest. She thanks him for taking care of her the previous night and he says it was the best night of his life because he got to be with her. Nice to know that he’s putting that ahead of the fact that she was in a dangerous medical condition; I mean, spending the night watching someone you love suffering miserably and in danger of dying doesn’t sound like a wonderful night, but, no, to Travis it’s less important than the fact that he got to be with her, because he’s a selfish git.
(Wait a minute; it also just occurred to me that this chapter actually skipped the obligatory ‘character takes shower’ scene, even though, after that night of vomiting, it’s got to be the point in the book where Abby most needs it. I assume it happened off page, but it seems sort of ironic after this many chapters of McGuire having her characters go off and take showers all the time because she can’t think of anything more interesting to have them do.)
Anyway, the two of them fall asleep lying in bed together, until Parker turns up. Travis wakes up but Abby’s sleeping too deeply. Parker blasts into Travis’s room and sees the two of them in bed together; I’d assume they’re both still dressed, but, if so, that escapes Parker. (Oh; they were and it did. Says so later in the chapter.) Travis adds fuel to the fire by pointedly putting his hand on Abby’s hip. Parker jumps to the plot-required conclusion, Travis does nothing to tell him differently, and Parker storms out. Travis realises belatedly that Abby’s going to hate him for this when she finds out. (Frankly, Travis, I suspect you’ll get away with it; Abby seems quite happy to forgive you for worse behaviour than that.)
At this point we actually have a section break, which is the first time I can remember seeing one since the book started, despite there having been points at which they would definitely have been useful. I guess McGuire suddenly remembered the technique existed.
The girls left for class the next morning in a rush. Pidge barely had time to speak to me before she left, so her feelings about the day before were definitely less than clear.
- It’s SUNDAY. McGuire, keep track of your fucking timeline. It is not that hard.
- Did he not get any more chances to speak to her yesterday? Did Abby just sleep all the way through the rest of the day and the night?
- If so, what the hell happened to the puppy? (You remember that puppy, right? The tiny defenceless living creature that needs frequent feeding, walking, and comforting and for which you two have taken on responsibility? That one?)
Anyway, that leaves Travis and Shepley back in the flat (apartment), because… they don’t have lectures to go to? I mean, yes, it’s Sunday and I wouldn’t think any of them would be going to lectures, but, since McGuire seems to have completely forgotten that, I’m not sure why Travis and Shepley would still be sitting around. Shepley’s happy he and America are back together and is trying to land Travis with TMI about how great the sex is after they have a fight. Lovely healthy relationship there. Travis calls him a pansy ass because he wants to marry America. Um… not that there’s ever a good time for homophobic slurs, but that seems like a particularly ironic time. Shepley retaliates by calling Travis out on the fact that he’s fallen in love with Abby and laughing at him when he can’t deny it. At this point I can’t decide which members of this gruesome foursome should be running fastest from which other members; best if they all just get their mutually dysfunctional selves far, far away from one another and focus on doing a whole load of growing up.
Less than five minutes later, I was fiddling with the radio in the Charger while Shepley was pulling out of the parking lot of our apartment complex.
Fuck, I hope Abby fed and walked the poor puppy before she left, since there’s no sign of these two yahoos doing it.
Ah, Shep and Travis do have a lecture to go to; guess it just started later than the girls’ first lecture. It’s something called English Comp II. (In a somewhat ironic moment, I managed to read ‘Comp’ as ‘Computing’ at first before figuring out that it must mean ‘Comprehension’.) They’re getting a surprise pop quiz. Why are these quizzes called ‘pop’? (Genuine question. They’re surely not popular, which is the normal meaning of that abbreviation.)
Anyway, at the end of the lecture one of the other students asks Travis about what happened at the weekend party, and, via some extended gossiping/speculation from this guy and another student (all of which is happening during the last bit of the lecture, so it’s odd that the lecturer doesn’t bother to shut down all this talking at the back), Travis learns that Parker’s spread the news about walking in on Abby and Travis, and rumours are running riot about the situation. (This, apparently, has stretched to include a rumour that Abby and the two guys were having a threesome. Even given what rumours are like, I’m curious as to whether it’s realistic that one would go that far? Back when I was at uni, we had such filthy minds that there was literally an official post in the Medical Students’ Society for the person whose job it was to stand up at the weekly meetings and give us the latest gossip, and I still can’t think of one time that a known or suspected cheating situation started a ‘threesome’ rumour.)
Sorry; the point, of course, is that Travis freaks out worrying about what Abby will say about this rumour. And they’re about to go for lunch, so he’s about to find out. (About to go for lunch? Shep only had breakfast just before leaving. Oh, well, I suppose it’s plausible he could be eating breakfast late; at least that one’s more explicable than most of McGuire’s timeline goofs.) Oh, wait; it’s not that he thinks he’s about to find out what she has to say, it’s that he thinks she’s about to find out about the rumours, because, for some reason, even though he found out about it before lunch and even though she’s spent more time on campus than he has this morning, he’s assuming she won’t hear the rumours till she gets to lunch. It’s as though he/McGuire can’t picture her having any social contacts that don’t involve either him or his romantic rival.
Anyway, he and Shepley sprint across campus to catch Abby and America going into the canteen, and break the news to them about the rumours (though they leave out the one about the threesome). Abby is predictably angry at the thought of people thinking she’s slept with both Parker and Travis in the same night:
“Great! So I’m the school slut now?”
More slut-shaming. Hooray. (Also, wait a minute; if these rumours are supposed to be around the fact that she went home with Travis, then what’s happening here is that people saw someone who was falling-down blackout drunk go home with a man and, when the rumours arise that some kind of sexual activity might have happened, people are still defaulting to ‘sex’ and not ‘rape’. That is fucking sickening. This is the one time I actually wish I could say McGuire’s plot wasn’t believable or realistic, but, sadly, this time I think it is.)
They go into the canteen. Travis tries sitting separately from Abby in hopes of quelling the rumours, but she tells him he doesn’t have to do that. Chris Jenks comes over and tells her he’s heard she had ‘quite a night’ after the party and that she was still in bed with Travis the next day when Parker came round. Abby gets angry at Travis for not telling her Parker came round. Shep and Travis are trying to get Chris to shut up, with no effect:
“If you didn’t sleep with her, mind if I take a shot?” Chris said, chuckling to his teammates.
That is such a jerk way to act that I actually, for once, have sympathy for Travis losing his cool, although I suppose, knowing McGuire’s moral code, the problem here is supposed to be ‘How dare Chris suggest Abby would have sex?’ rather than ‘How dare Chris talk as though Abby is Travis’s possession rather than a person with the right to decide for herself whom she has sex with?’. Anyway, what sympathy I had is unfortunately erased by Travis’s reaction (if this scenario was on the Am I The Asshole? Reddit, I’d vote for ‘ESH’, which, for the unfamiliar, stands for ‘Everyone Sucks Here’):
I grabbed Chris by the throat with one hand, and a fistful of his T-shirt in the other. My knuckles barely felt the connection with his face.
…those would be the knuckles of his third hand, I guess.
My rage was full blown and I was just short of letting everything fly. Chris covered his face, but I kept whaling on him.
In what way is this short of letting everything fly?
Abby screams at Travis who comes to his senses (such as they are), drops Chris, and runs out and escapes back home, thinking yet again about how bad he is for Abby and getting all depressed about it. I looked to see whether there’s any sign of the puppy needing attention; apparently it just sits behind Travis on the bed wagging its tail at the sight of Abby, who’s come after him and insisted on coming into the bedroom to ask him what’s going on. This does not sound at all like normal puppy behaviour to me. I’m not a puppy expert or anything, but don’t they normally do stuff like jumping around excitedly and barking like crazy and peeing on the floor? Anyway, Abby wants to know what’s going on with Travis, who sighs and tells her:
“You know the other day when Brazil mouthed off to me and you rushed to my defense? Well … that’s what happened.
Bollocks it was. What happened then was that Abby snapped out a stupid insult and told Brazil to shut up. What happened here was that Travis committed assault and battery. Spot the difference?
I just got a little carried away.”
That’s a very euphemistic way to describe violence of a level that could get you arrested and convicted.
All the antics, my stupid stunts; everything was to somehow get her attention
<head meets desk> A man with the emotional development of a three-year-old. Our romantic hero, ladies and gentlemen.
We have a bit more of Travis telling Abby she should leave him because he’s horribly wrong for her and can’t face leaving her, and quietly despairing because he’s torn between not wanting to leave her and not wanting her to be stuck with an utter scumbag like him when he’s correctly realises she deserves better. Wow, if only there were other options, such as anger management courses and genuine attempts at self-awareness and self-improvement.
Abby insists she’s going to stay and be his friend, and dismisses his attempts to blame himself for the rumours starting about her. (Actually, just for once, I don’t think he is all that much to blame. I mean, yeah, he shouldn’t have let Parker think they were sleeping together, but Travis didn’t tell anyone about Parker finding the two of them together; if there are rumours going around, sounds like Parker’s the big mouth.) The two of them sit together peacefully with their arms around each other ‘for the longest time’ until, apparently, the sun was starting to set, while the puppy faded silently into non-existence in their/McGuire’s brains, since actually having to take care of it would have spoiled the semi-romantic plot moment and we do have to keep our priorities straight here.
America comes in with Shep and smiles at seeing Abby and Travis sitting there with their arms around each other, so I guess seeing Travis beat someone up also didn’t impact on her belief that he’s the perfect partner for Abby. (You know, given that it was in response to someone insulting Abby, I bet she thinks it’s really romantic. Aaarrrggghhhh.) She asks them if they want to go get food; Abby says she’s starving, and Travis comments that of course she is because she didn’t have time to eat lunch. Hey, guys, you know who else hasn’t had anything to eat? That puppy you’re supposed to be taking care of, that’s who. Even if we make the charitable assumption that someone fed and walked him in the morning before this section started, that still leaves him having gone all day without food or walkies. And, no, it doesn’t happen now either; they go out to the restaurant and stay until it closes. This is animal neglect. This is fucking awful.
We also get this interesting little snippet from Travis while in the restaurant:
It was weird how everyone was pretending I hadn’t just pummeled someone a few hours ago, like nothing had happened.
Weird, and deeply dysfunctional. Travis, you’re this group’s Missing Stair.
Once again, I was going to have to swallow the dysphoria and go along with everyone else’s fake mood.
This guy is now talking as though it’s some kind of imposition on him that everyone’s letting his terrible behaviour slide. Would you prefer some straight talking about how this is inexcusable behaviour and you need to shape up, Travis? Want them to organise an intervention?
As if we had to keep up pretenses to help Abby move through reality in her little bubble of ignorance where no one felt anything too strongly, and everything was cut-and-dried.
That would actually be fairly good writing if it matched anything that was happening in the plot.
Anyway, they all have a nice time joking around at the restaurant (we’re told this, not shown) and then head home, where Travis tells Abby he owes her an apology because he defended her for the wrong reasons; it wasn’t because Chris was ‘teasing’ her, it was because he was angry with him for wanting to sleep with her. Abby says she doesn’t care:
“I don’t care what people are saying, or that you lost your temper, or why you messed up Chris’s face.[…]”
Two of those things are not like the other one, Abby. Not caring about what rumours are getting spread by the gossip mill? Sounds like a good plan. Not caring that Travis beat someone up, or that he did it just because that person wanted to have sex with Abby? Those are things you really should care about, because they’re major red flags.
Abby says she’s tired of explaining their friendship to everyone so to hell with them, and we have another round of Travis feeling exasperated that Abby isn’t picking up on his implied feelings for her, still without any proper explanation of why he can’t just tell her how he feels about her.
Abby goes to have – you guessed it – a shower, and Travis waits with Toto because McGuire has apparently remembered that Toto exists, just not that he’s not a stuffed toy and would actually need feeding and walking at this point. Abby comes to bed and makes some comment about it being two more weeks till she goes back to the dorm, because McGuire still cannot do basic arithmetic about a timeline. Look, McGuire. They had the bet where she agreed to stay for a month. The next day was a party that had already been established as being on a Saturday, followed by another week which ended with Abby’s party on a Friday, which was two days ago as per this chapter, which means we’re just over a week into the month. That should be three weeks left, not two. This really isn’t complicated.
Anyway, they fall asleep with Abby snuggled up in Travis’s arms again and, apart from all the reasons why this is a disastrous idea, I’m too bored with these two to see their cuddles as romantic. That’s the other notable thing about this book; how dull the romance part of it is. If it wasn’t for all the horrible bits, there would be nothing interesting at all.
I’m baffled; why is this book such a success? Look, believe me, I get loving a book even though it’s problematic (glances up at Jilly Coopers and LaVyrle Spencers on shelf). A book can be problematic and still be a great read. It can even be badly written and still be a compelling read in some ways. But this book doesn’t even manage to be that. There are no witty or in-depth conversations to draw me in, no character quirks, no feeling of chemistry between the characters. We don’t even really get much of a sense of what Travis finds so attractive about Abby; yeah, there was that weird comment in the first chapter about her having porn star hair, but we don’t get the sort of passionate descriptions of the things about her face or body or gestures that he likes. We get this endless spiral of want her/not good enough for her, but that’s it. What the hell do people like so much about this book?
Well, whatever it is, we’ve made it through another chapter of it, so time to hit ‘post’ on this. Hooray! And now I shall be taking a break from both this and ‘Deciphering’ for a bit, as I have some other things in the wings I want to write about and was just trying to finish out chapters in both books before doing so. Catch you guys soon!