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.
This was initially a companion series to the magnificent Jenny Trout‘s review of the original novel, ‘Beautiful Disaster’. Jenny has since stopped her review, not wanting to give McGuire any further publicity in the wake of her attempts to run for office.
Travis tells us that he’s now trying to avoid situations that make him angry, which isn’t easy because he also realises that ‘every dick on campus’ is just waiting for him to screw things up badly enough to alienate Abby so that they could ‘try her out’, so it looks as though he’s assuming that all the men on campus think of Abby as a possession. I think that’s called projection, Trav. Meanwhile, half the women on campus are upset because Travis is no longer screwing his way through the multitudes one (or more) five-minute stand at a time. Why, how could anyone be other than devastated that this
toxic dirtbag love god is off the market?
And then! Unprecedented event; we actually get given a clear point in time! It’s Hallowe’en! Which of course doesn’t fit with the amount of time that’s supposedly passed in this story so far, but at least lets us know where McGuire thinks we are in the year now, even if that doesn’t fit with anything else she’s said.
The gruesome foursome head into the Red (that club from a few chapters back), with Travis thinking how glad he is that Abby isn’t wearing a slutty costume like all Those Slutty Sluts, because that means…
the number of threats I would have to make for staring at her tits or worrying about her bending over would be kept to a minimum.
Travis’s worldview, ladies and gentlemen; if other men dare look at your
property girlfriend in a sexual way, you have to threaten them. (Also, apparently you have to threaten people who worry about her bending over. Or maybe that’s just how McGuire’s grammar came out.)
Despite Abby’s lack of a slutty costume, Travis does see a man paying for her drink and, with his friend, attempting to chat her and America up. (Unsuccessfully; she’s just telling him she’s here with her boyfriend when Trav walks up, and, from the description of the scene in ‘Beautiful’, both of them were already doing their best to give off go-away signals which were being disregarded, so she’s not cheating on Travis here.) So, naturally Trav
is sympathetic that Abby and America are being pestered against their obvious wishes and checks that Abby’s OK….. nah, you got me, that was just my mental fixfic of the scene. Trav is actually furious with Abby. Takes the drink from her and throws it in the bin, glares at her, yells at her.
“I don’t like you letting other guys buy you drinks,” I said.
“Would it bother you to walk up to the bar and see me sharing a drink with some chick?”
“You’re going to have to tone down the jealous-boyfriend thing, Travis. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I walk up here, and some guy is buying you a drink!”
But McGuire wants us all to know that he has a perfectly good and justifiable reason for behaving this way:
Knowing about the two sexual assault incidents the year before, it made me nervous to let Abby and America walk around alone. Drugging an unsuspecting girl’s drink was not unheard of, even in our small college town.
I’d told Abby a dozen times not to do something so potentially dangerous as accept a drink from a stranger; anger quickly took over.
“I’ve told you a hundred times . . . you can’t take drinks from random guys. What if he put something in it?”
See, Travis only gets angry because he’s worried about Abby! He’s just trying to protect her! That makes his response totally justifiable… right? Well, Travis certainly seems to think so:
Of course I would get angry if she did something that would get her hurt.
Angry. Not concerned. Not worried. Not sympathetic. Angry. With Abby. For being at risk of sexual assault. It doesn’t even occur to Travis that there is something wrong with that reaction.
But also… come off it, Travis/McGuire. Firstly, the guys didn’t touch the drinks. This is glossed over in the account in this book, where Travis just says he saw ‘two guys buying them drinks’ and leaves the details ambiguous, but in the account in ‘Beautiful’ we see that the guy in question just handed the money to the bartender after she gave the girls the drinks they’d already ordered. (This was after America had already turned him down when he offered to pay, BTW, so he was being a pushy dick about it; but he hadn’t had the drinks prior to them being handed to the girls.) Secondly, America tells him that the drinks were never out of their sight, and instead of being relieved or even being eager to double-check with her – you know, the kind of reactions you’d expect if spiked drinks were really his concern – he gets snippy with her. Thirdly, this supposed concern for Abby’s welfare is coming from the man who was absolutely fine with insisting Abby ride on his bike without a helmet and speeding while she was on there. So, excuse me if I’m not terribly impressed with the level to which her safety and wellbeing are motivating his actions.
Shepley tries to smooth things over… huh, looks like McGuire C&P’d this from ‘Beautiful’ and forgot to change it, thus making it look as though Travis is talking about himself in the third person:
Shepley put his hand on Travis’s shoulder. “We’ve all had a lot to drink. Let’s just get out of here.”
Not-so-deliberate mistake aside, this has a real Missing Stair feel to it. Shepley doesn’t feel able to call Travis out on what he’s doing, or even to focus the let’s-cool-down approach on him. Instead, he’s avoiding putting any focus on Travis’s behaviour and is trying to solve the immediate problem by expecting everyone to leave. Three other people have to cut their night short rather than expect Travis to control his temper.
Abby storms off to let Finch know they’re leaving, and Trav sees her mentioning his name to Finch, which he is not happy about:
She had blamed it on me, which only made me more mad.
Because heaven forfend anyone put any responsibility on Travis for his own behaviour.
She didn’t seem to mind so much when I was bashing Chris Jenks’s head in, but when I got pissed about her taking drinks from strangers, she had the audacity to get mad.
Something about that sentence made me twig… I think McGuire actually means the whole scene where Travis commits assault and battery to be a feature rather than a bug. I’ve been reading it as Abby being willing to tolerate Trav behaving this way, which was bad enough. But I have the feeling now that we’re actually meant to see that scene as a positive thing, with Trav fighting for Abby’s honour. Maybe I’m reading too much into it… and maybe I’m not.
However, whether the message was meant to be ‘Abby was willing to put up with Travis violently beating up someone who was being a dick’ or ‘Abby was delighted that Travis would violently beat someone up for being a dick’, this is an excellent example of why it’s a really bad idea to stay with someone who shows you they’re willing to act this way. Abby stayed with Travis when he thought the best answer to Jenks’s dickery was violence, and now she’s having to deal with his toxic jealousy and early signs of controlling behaviour.
And it’s just about to get worse. Trav sees a man grab Abby and press up against her, and, without thinking about it, he reacts by punching him in the face hard enough to knock him over. Because he does this without getting the man to let go of Abby first, she gets pulled to the ground as well, and the blood from his nose sprays her. Well, there’s a throwback to how they met, and unfortunately not a romantic one. Abby is not happy.
Travis, realising he’s pushed things too far, starts trying to do damage control, apologising while trying to make excuses at the same time:
“I’m sorry, Pigeon, I didn’t know he had a hold of you.”
That’s a flat-out lie, Trav. You just said you hit him because you got angry when you saw him grab Abby like that.
“I wouldn’t have swung if I thought I could have hit you. You know that right?”
This, as well as being a good example of a sentence that needed a comma it didn’t get, is also a good example of how intent isn’t magic. Yes, Travis certainly didn’t throw that punch intending to spray Abby with blood or knock her over. However, he did let his anger run wild until it ended up having consequences he didn’t want. If Trav had been talking himself down and focusing on staying calm, he’d probably have handled things a lot more appropriately when Mr Grabby made his move on Abby. Instead, Trav actually focused on justifying his anger to himself. It was only because he cared about Abby! Only because he was worried about her! Totally legit! Which temporarily made him feel better about himself… up until the point where he lost it and made everything worse.
Trav is now desperate for Abby to forgive him and reassure him that everything’s all right. Unfortunately for him, Abby doesn’t forgive him and doesn’t think it’s all right. Trav, being Trav, can’t accept that and back off but keeps pleading with her to accept his apology:
“I’m going to fuck up. I’m going to fuck up a lot, Pidge, but you have to forgive me.”
Guess what, Trav? No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t have to forgive you just because you want her to. Not only that, but even if she forgives you she doesn’t have to stay with you. She gets to decide that dealing with the fallout from this sort of toxic anger and jealousy is not for her. She won’t, because this is a horrible romance novel, but it’s something people get to do.
However, while I’m disliking Trav as much as ever, I do have to say that I like several other things about this scene. Firstly, Trav is admitting that he’s screwed up. Not even in a way that makes me scream ‘But that’s not the real problem here!’ (as has been the case on previous occasions in this book); he’s acknowledging, at least to himself, that his actions have caused a real problem. Secondly, the others are calling him out on his refusal to back off and give her a bit of space when she doesn’t want to forgive him straight away. And, thirdly, Abby herself is calling him out loud and clear on the problems with his behaviour here.
“I’m going to have a huge bruise on my ass in the morning! You hit that guy because you were pissed at me! What should that tell me? Because red flags are going up all over the place right now!”
“I’ve never hit a girl in my life,” I said, surprised she would ever think I could ever lay a hand on her – or any other woman for that matter.
“And I’m not about to be the first one!” she said, tugging at the door. “Move, damn it!”
You GO, girl. (In both senses of the phrase. Go far away from Travis, and stay away.)
Trav reluctantly accepts he can’t actually keep Abby there for him to keep pleading for forgiveness, and lets her go off to spend the night in the dorm. Shep makes it clear to Trav that smashing the place up again is not on, and Trav manages to keep control of his temper.
After a sleepless night spent doing mindless housework, he heads over to the dorm first thing for another go at getting Abby to talk to him, because he still can’t manage to leave her alone and respect that she doesn’t want to talk to him. Luckily for him though unluckily for her future prospects in this relationship, she’s actually OK with him doing this. (Though it’s a pain for Abby’s roommate Kara, who has to leave her own room and go have a shower to give them some privacy and so makes a pointed comment about always being very clean when Abby’s around.)
That said, I do on the whole like the conversation they have now. Trav seems genuinely apologetic, and not in a ‘sorry, but…’ way. Abby, meanwhile, is clear about stating her concerns:
“You don’t see me throwing punches every time a girl talks to you. I can’t stay locked up in the apartment all the time. You’re going to have to get a handle on your temper. […] You’ve asked me to trust you, and you don’t seem to trust me.” […] “If you think I’m going to leave you for the next guy that comes along, then you don’t have much faith in me.”
So, will Travis actually be able to manage his reactions instead of translating them into anger against Abby? I’m not holding my breath, but we’ll see.
How much I needed her terrified me.
I’m including that line just because the grammar is so wince-makingly awkward.
Maybe together we were this volatile entity that would either implode or meld together.
You know, this is the kind of thing that would have struck me as ohhhh, sooooooo romaaaaaantic when I was a teenager. I’d have lapped it up. With the benefit of a few decades more life experience, I just roll my eyes at the thought of trying to make that kind of mess of a relationship work. Dysfunction isn’t really a romantic plus.
However, speaking of pluses, we are now at the end of another chapter. Maybe I’ll manage to speed up and skim through on the next chapter? Maybe McGuire’s writing will get better? We can dream of unlikely things.