The story so far: Many moons ago, Jenny Trout started a review of appallingly toxic romance novel ‘Beautiful Disaster’, and, as the author has written a parallel book from the male love interest’s POV, I thought it would be fun to do a parallel review of the parallel book. Jenny Trout has since stopped her ‘Beautiful Disaster’ review, but I, having less wisdom in life, kept going with the very appropriately named Walking Disaster, now part way through Chapter 17. So, I got to the bit where Travis is promising himself he’ll be a better man and keep his temper so that he can be worthy of his new lady-love, promptly followed up by this:
By lunchtime, Chris Jenks had pissed me off and I regressed. Abby was thankfully patient and forgiving, even when I threatened Parker not twenty minutes later.
…with no further detail on what happened in those incidents. And I decided to look those up in ‘Beautiful Disaster’ and see what actually happened without Travis glossing it over.
Content warning for misogynistic comments (though actually called out in text), violence (not called out in text), and swearing (mine).
‘By lunchtime, Chris Jenks had pissed me off and I regressed’
Firstly, it is fair to say that Chris Jenks is an unmitigated dick in this scene. He starts off with ‘Did you finally give it up, Abby?’ (as in, have sex with Travis). When Abby talks Travis down from his anger, Chris laughs ‘Holy God! Travis Maddox is whipped!’ Travis, after checking in with Abby that she’s OK with him doing this, then stands over Chris and tells him in no uncertain terms to apologise to Abby. That’s a response I can entirely get behind. Chris does apologise and tells Abby that he was ‘just kidding’… and then, as soon as Travis has turned round and is walking back to Abby, Chris snickers and whispers something to one of the others (Abby can’t hear what, but I think we’re being fair here in assuming it’s something else derogatory). So Chris Jenks is clearly an utter arsehole. By this point in the narrative, I was actually feeling I might have been unfair to Travis here.
Except, of course, that the problem isn’t just ‘Travis gets angry’, but how Travis behaves when he gets angry. He could have said ‘Jenks, you’re a dick, I’m going to sit elsewhere in future and don’t try to hang out with me at lunch again’ and just got himself and Abby the hell out of there and left the whole scenario. Instead…
Travis lifted Finch’s tray off the table and swung it into Chris’s face, knocking him off his chair. Chris tried to scramble under the table, but Travis pulled him out by his legs and then began to whale on him.
Chris curled into a ball, and then Travis kicked him in the back. Chris arched and turned, holding his hands out, allowing Travis to land several punches to his face. The blood began to flow and Travis stood up, winded.
“If you even look at her, you piece of shit, I’ll break your fuckin’ jaw!” Travis yelled. I winced when he kicked Chris in the leg one last time.
That, readers, is what Travis was glossing over with ‘and I regressed’.
By the way… in case you happen to be wondering how the other students in the cafeteria reacted to seeing someone viciously attacked in front of them, the answer is that some of them ‘stood up to get a better look’, and some didn’t even bother to do that but just watched with ‘mild amusement’. The only people who actually seem bothered are the cafeteria workers; they ‘scampered out, shocked by the bloody mess on the floor’. Other than that… no mass consternation, no-one screaming at him to stop, no-one calling the police. Yeah, I do not think ‘mild amusement’ would be the reaction in real life. I also do not think I’m going out on too much of a limb in guessing that Travis will never face any consequences from either the college or the law for having committed assault and battery in front of numerous witnesses.
There’s another aspect of the whole thing that’s also worth discussing, and that is that there is zero chance that this is the first time Chris has made those sorts of out-of-line comments about women. That sort of behaviour does not just appear out of a clear blue sky from a man who’d always been thoughtful and respectful. Yet he’s still part of the regular group. So… it looks as though the group has been OK with those sorts of misogynistic sneers all the way up till he started making them about a woman Travis cared about. Which means they’ve been enabling him. They’ve been giving him the message that this sort of behaviour is fine.
Now, imagine that every time Chris tried pulling that shit the response he’d got from the group was something like ‘Whoa, not funny, cut that shit out’ or ‘WTF, Jenks? What’s that crap for?’ or anything else that let him know his buddies were not OK with it. Anyone think he’d still have been trying this? He’d either have scaled it way back or drifted off to find a friend group who wouldn’t call it out. Either way, chances are excellent that Abby and Travis would not have had to deal with him pulling this shit, because by this point he would have known better than to try it with them. He might even have done some soul-searching and become a better human being… but, at a bare minimum, he’d at least have learned how to behave better around other people.
However, what we actually see is a Chris who thinks nothing of making these sorts of comments about Abby. Which tells us that, however much of his assholity is an innate characteristic, it’s also something that’s been enabled. The fact that he’s quite OK with doing this and apparently doesn’t expect any pushback from Travis or the rest of the crowd tells us that, up till now, he hasn’t been getting pushback from Travis or the rest of the crowd. Which means that they have been, at best, putting up with this kind of crap as long as Chris was saying it about other women, not their girlfriends. (I say ‘at best’ because it’s extremely likely, knowing Travis, that he’s actually been laughing right along and joining in.)
So… Trav’s fine with allowing Chris’s comments to go unchecked when they’re about any other woman. Then Chris makes the tactical error of making the same types of comments about someone Trav actually cares about, and Travis does a 0 to 90 and becomes viciously violent. Meanwhile, is he going to start doing anything to stop or object to Chris’s misogyny on other occasions? I’m guessing not.
Anyway, Travis leaves the cafeteria and Shepley drags Abby and America after him, and they sit outside Morgan Hall while Travis paces about, trying to decompress. Shepley says he’s surprised Travis didn’t kill him. Shepley, have you been doing anything to call Chris out when he’s been a misogynistic scumbag on previous occasions, or are you also on board with the approach of ‘ignore this sort of behaviour until it’s about a woman you love, then go straight to criminal violence’?
Finch then comes up and does some shit-stirring:
“Every straight guy at Eastern wants to try her out because she landed the unattainable Travis Maddox,” he shrugged. “That’s what they’re saying in there now, at least.”
There is some kind of horrible ‘romance as competition’ streak running through this book in which McGuire is continually giving us the message that Travis’s attraction to Abby somehow proves her objective superiority over all other women, and that this is somehow an important and good thing. Apparently it can’t just be about ‘these two people find they’re right for each other and attracted to each other’, but about Abby being the Chosen One out of all those (clearly inferior) other women. I mean… what is going on here in terms of deep fundamental insecurity in McGuire/her audience that makes this trope seem attractive? Are the straights OK?
Anyway, here we see the logical extension of this: because Abby has received the ‘Chosen by the Unattainable
Dickhead Romantic Hero’ stamp of approval and thus been designated The Objectively Superior Woman, everyone else now wants her as well. Which makes sense when you start from McGuire’s horrible premises, but apparently is not OK because Travis doesn’t want anyone else talking this way about his Objectively Superior Love Object Woman. I’m not clear on the reasons; is it because he doesn’t like the way they’re objectifying Abby? That would be a good reason if it wasn’t so ragingly hypocritical from the man who’s been talking that way about women up until now and shows no sign of recognising that that’s not OK. Or is it because he just doesn’t like other people coveting his possession girlfriend? I definitely get the impression that that’s it. I have never for the life of me been able to make sense out of this attitude; seriously, why does anyone care whom people outside the relationship are attracted to or whether there are other people who share your taste in attraction? Why is this even a thing that bothers people? I just don’t get it.
But, as usual, Travis is prepared to commit violence over it. Shep tries to stop him from charging straight back into the cafeteria for more ABH, and gets punched himself for his pains. Abby, in desperation, manages to distract him by leaping at him and kissing him, then talking him down. It feels like a horribly depressing glimpse into her future; she’s going to be the one distracting him and managing his emotions for him, because he’s got the emotional age of a bratty toddler.
Along which line, when she sees Parker up ahead she immediately starts feeling tense because she knows the sight of him is another thing that’s likely to upset Travis. On to the scene with Parker…
‘…even when I threatened Parker not twenty minutes later’
Abby runs over to Parker to try to head off conflict, telling him it’s a really bad time because Travis is still ‘a little raw’. Parker ignores that and goes right ahead with his intervention anyway (which is pretty silly; it’s been established they have at least one lecture together that Travis isn’t in, so it would be easy enough for him to wait a bit and speak to her away from Travis another time).
“I just heard what happened in the cafeteria. I don’t think you realise what you’re getting yourself into. Travis is bad news, Abby. Everyone knows it. No one is talking about how great it is that you’ve turned him around… they’re all waiting for him to do what he does best. I don’t know what he’s told you, but you have no clue what kind of person he is. […]Do you know how many humiliated girls I’ve taken home from parties after they’ve spent a few hours alone in a room with him? He’s going to hurt you, Abs.”
My first reaction to the ‘humiliated girls’ mention was ‘yikes, is Trav sexually assaulting multiple women?’ This is in fact horribly plausible, knowing what an awful person he is, and in fact I remember Jenny Trout being convinced he’s a rapist. However, on reflection, I concluded that that would be something Parker would have warned Abby about before now. If nothing else, he wants to score points with her and would have taken the opportunity to put himself in the position of protecting her. I think, therefore, that this most likely refers to Trav’s charming ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am’ approach to sex followed by freezing the woman out and expecting her to conveniently disappear from his life.
It’s interesting to compare what Parker’s saying here with what Travis said in an earlier chapter:
One night our freshman year, I took Janet Littleton home from the Red Door to my apartment. Parker was trying to get lucky with her friend. We went our separate ways from the club, and after I bagged her and didn’t pretend to want a relationship afterward, she called her friend all pissed off to come get her. The friend was still with Parker, so he ended up taking Janet home.
After that, Parker had a new story to tell his conquests. Whatever girl I bagged, he usually swept up my sloppy seconds by recounting the time he saved Janet.
Firstly, this is contributory evidence to the theory that the problem is Travis kicking them out as soon as he’s done with them. If, after sex, he promptly switches to expecting the woman to get out of his apartment and make her own way home in the middle of the night rather than getting to stay at least till morning, then I can certainly see that being both humiliating and angering.
Secondly, spot the difference between this story and Parker’s; apart from Travis glossing over how he’s acted, he’s also telling us about one occasion when it happened, while Parker implies it’s been a lot of times. Either Travis is being disingenuous about how often he does this, or Parker’s exaggerating to make Travis look worse to Abby. Frankly, either strikes me as plausible; I’m not impressed with either of these two. (Parker, if you remember, treats this history of ‘humiliated girls’ as a story he can joke about to score points, so I can’t say I’m overly impressed with him as a person either.)
Travis’s fingers tightened in reaction, and I rested my hand on his until he relaxed.
We don’t, however, get any information on Abby’s reaction. No sneaking ‘wait, is he right, what am I getting myself into?’ type of doubts, no ‘how dare he say such things about Travis’ indignation. Even from Abby’s viewpoint, apparently it’s Travis’s reaction that counts.
Travis tells Parker to go (and also objects to him calling her ‘Abs’, which I had to point out as it’s such blatant hypocrisy from the man who’s consistently insisted on calling her ‘Pidge’ against her wishes). Parker says he’s worried about her, and Abby tells him she appreciates it but it’s not necessary.
“He saw you as a long-term challenge, Abby. He has you thinking you’re different from the other girls so he could get you in the sack. He’s going to get tired of you. He has the attention span of a toddler.”
Travis threatens Parker to get him to go away, in his usual toxic style (“If you so much as breathe in her direction, I’ll make sure you’ll be limping through med school.”)
Parker took a few steps back until I was in his line of sight. “I thought you were smarter than that,” he said, shaking his head before turning away.
I’m pleased that Parker is at least trying to stage some sort of intervention here, but, unfortunately, this is a very good example of how not to do it. He’s insisting on forging ahead with it in front of Travis despite the fact that Abby’s specifically asked him not to do this, and he’s lecturing Abby about the problems with Travis in a way that’s just going to put Abby on the defensive and make her want to prove him wrong. Worst of all, when Abby doesn’t immediately agree with him, he criticises her. If Abby does have any doubts about Travis in future, she’s now got one more reason to choke them down; fear of ‘I told you so’.
(To be fair, Parker is also a teenage college student. While it’s a shame that he’s messing it up so badly, it is also realistic writing. Since he’s planning to go onto medical school, my headcanon is that he will eventually learn more about how to broach the subject of dysfunction/potential abuse in relationships and that he’ll facepalm in retrospect as he thinks back to how badly he handled this.)
If you’re worried about a friend’s relationship… don’t lecture them, don’t expect that all you need to do is spell out the problems and they will immediately agree how right you are and proceed to The Dumping, and don’t, ever, talk or behave as though your respect for them is contingent on them doing so. Express concern, ask questions and listen to the answers, and, above all, trust that they are the best person to make decisions about the situation they are in. Even if you disagree. Even if you’re convinced you’d do oh-so-much-better in their situation. You’re not in their situation, so you don’t know how you’d do if faced with it; respect their decisions accordingly.
Anyway, this is pretty much the end of this section. Travis tells Abby that what Parker was saying was bullshit, Abby says it’s what everyone will be thinking, Travis tells her he’ll prove them all wrong. Section break.
So, there you are; information on how Travis was really behaving in those scenes. Just before I leave ‘Beautiful’ to get back to ‘Walking’, here are some other bits and pieces I noticed while skimming through:
- Yes, America’s conversation with Abby after Travis smashed the flat up did indeed involve sympathising heavily with Travis. Sigh.
- On a more positive note, Abby actually did take the time to check that Travis had never previously had unprotected sex before being willing to sleep with him without a condom. While it would have been nice if McGuire had considered this important enough to mention it in the ‘Walking’ scene as well instead of leaving ‘Walking’ readers with the impression that this isn’t an important thing to check, at least she put it in somewhere.
- We did also miss out on a rather nice little earlier scene in which Travis realises Abby is embarrassed about people looking at her in the cafeteria and promptly draws attention away from her by tearing into a loud, jumping-on-tables rendition of ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ (while Abby sits there thinking WTF, did I just fall into a High School Musical episode or something, as you would). I have no idea why McGuire didn’t put this scene into ‘Walking’; it’s one of the extremely few things in the book I’ve liked, and it could have been adorable from Travis’s POV.
- Abby and Travis missed class this morning to have sex. The only reason this is worth mentioning is because, when Jenny was reviewing ‘Beautiful’, she noted a line in which Abby was irritated that Travis had skipped a class to have sex with someone, and commented ‘knowing this author’s M.O., I guarantee there will be a scene where they skip class to fuck and it’s the most totally okayest and cute thing ever’, so, there you go, Jenny; nailed it as usual.
Back to ‘Walking’, which I will pick up in a future post. I wish everyone a good weekend free from the world’s Travis Maddoxes.