Initial thoughts: Some of you are probably thinking "Ye Gods, Rose, you said you weren't going to touch this one, so why did you read it?"
Several factors. Curiosity is not my best friend. It nags at me until I relent, even for books that I (sometimes, not often) say I will put them down and not have anything to do with them EVER again. But when opportunity presents itself - I swallow my qualms and break my own boundaries. You put a book in front of me, it's like putting a saltine cracker in front of one of my good friends from my undergrad uni days - you're asking me to pick it up.
I surfed NetGalley Friday morning, looking at some of my approvals (I think I upped a review that day as well). I saw "Walking Disaster" listed and went to look at the description. I did not know that NG had the first 250 grab. I didn't get a chance to look at the email until after the fact (and by then, it was over). But I saw the description, saw that it was "Read Now", and thought "Oh, do I dare? McGuire and I do not have a fond history as far reading her work is concerned, and I'm mindful of so many controversies surrounding this series, and I think Travis is an abusive jerk and..."
Yeah, it played out like that. So I was one of the first 250 people to get this galley, though on what end of that scale, I've no idea. Afterwards, I started to have regrets, but not just for the content of the book. I thought people would think I went into this to "hate read", but honestly it was more academic (okay, maybe a little bit for the snark and pending train wreck, but not primarily).
One of the things I wanted to do in this pre-review was write a fanfic-ish dialogue between characters that I would consider my "book boyfriends" trying to determine why Travis wouldn't make it into a formal "Order" of sorts. In the same breath, I wanted to use that to examine the intricacies of "book boyfriends" in a humored, constructive, and introspective way.
I had Samwise from Lord of the Rings, Darcy from "Pride and Prejudice", Daemon Black from the Lux series, Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club, Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist, Aladdin from "Disney's Aladdin" (not really a book boyfriend, but throwing in an obligatory Disney prince seemed like a punchline I wanted to use, especially given the link with BD/WD to "Lady and the Tramp"), among other characters including an erotica hero. And I knew I could write in those voices because I know the characters very well and could hear them chattering in my head, complete with humor lines I think anyone would be able to appreciate, regardless if they've read the works they're from or not. Then I realized I'd probably get into trouble with that because of having to put a disclaimer, asking permissions from some of the creators of these characters, and then facing the utter mortification that people would not get what I was trying to do with it. Thinking it would be too long for the review space as well, I scrapped the idea. (I still have part of the draft of that on MS Word, but I don't know if I'll ever finish it.)
Instead, I'll keep with the academic nature of this review and give you a song that jumped in my mind the minute I finished this book. The song's called "Paralyzed" by Rock Kills Kid. If you can listen to the song, even if it's not your chosen genre, try it. Listen to the lyrics especially (or read them if you care to). Some of you may already know it because it was the ending theme to the 2008 horror movie "Prom Night".
Tell me seriously that the lyrics in that song don't have some tie to Travis Maddox when you think about him and his reckless actions - in a sensual way, in a destructive way, in a way that seems blind and repetitive and full of being stuck in the same emotional place. I think they do, though I think the subject of that song has more complex, insinuated issues than Travis had in the TWO BOOKS within which he's featured. McGuire really could've used this book to do so much introspection with Travis's character, but for anyone who's read BD - that wasn't likely to happen. BD was all about the trainwreck, the so-called whirlwind romance, the crushing on the tattooed, damaged hero and the girl who loves him, the in-fights, the shock factor, the drama. So now with "Walking Disaster", we're reading the same story, but from the hero's perspective. What do we learn?
I could answer "next to nothing", but that wouldn't be entirely accurate. We don't learn that much more about Travis's family than in the first book (except for the prologue), some scenes are rehashed, some scenes are new, some are expanded slightly. Instead I'll say that on Travis's part, from a mental perspective - Travis barely owns up to his mistakes. He is not a male mind I want to walk through in any capacity, and I'm a bonafide sapiosexual - I like walking through minds and digging into what people know. I value introspection and depth of character/one's person.
Travis still shames people for who or how often they engage their sexuality (slut or virgin), he makes no apology for ordering Abby around (he defends telling her what to wear), he engages in reckless behavior without real remorse for what he's done (except maybe a few times, one of which had a spark of which I could give McGuire credit for), and he's generally a jerk for all of the book.
We also learn that Jamie McGuire cannot separate herself from negative reviews surrounding her work, because the level of authorial intrusion in this book is worse than the first book, and it's more blatantly panning certain criticisms that were of the first work. My take on this: don't read reviews of your work, positive or negative if you cannot weigh the balance of them and learn to separate yourself and your work from them. Focus on the story that you're trying to tell. Even if it has its problems, there are still people who may recognize its problems and still find enjoyment in it to a certain degree, but for all intents and purposes, glorifying the problems further that you had previously, acknowledging them and then proceeding to DEFEND them, does no one any favors.
And it never helps to screw with your critics, because you might end up learning something from them.
"Walking Disaster" proved to be its title in more ways than one. And it's not just on the note of its tattooed "hero" with a penchant for violence. Travis "Mad Dog" Maddox could not be any further from a romantic hero in the healthiest sense of the term. He's careless, manipulative, misogynistic, angry, needy, violence glorified. I had to wonder on so many levels exactly why people were so drawn to him. Why people consider him to be a "book boyfriend" among other things.
You might recall I proposed this very same question in my reading of "Beautiful Disaster." I think that was a huge factor in my mind as I sat down to read this book, and I sincerely wanted to learn the reason, because even if I considered the former book one of the worst romances I'd read, I still wanted to truly see if Travis had any significant weight or dimensions to his respective character. I wondered if McGuire would delve into the kind of things that shaped Travis to be the person that he was in present terms, and to figure how he could treat some of the people he loves the way he did.
I think more are attached to the "image" rather than the actual projected realities that are often attached to "bad boy" characters. That can be problematic because in some details, people think the characters can get away with these things. That it's simply "fiction" and that supposedly has no bearings on the reality of what people want in their relationships. But then I have to ask - if it's not what people really want, why are these tendencies portrayed as being desirable? Is that not contradicting?
People may consider a "bad boy" and think of a cocky swagger, a teasing smile, tattoos on a chiseled body, a washboard torso you can run your hands down, strong embraces (or overarching physical strength in general), but underneath those ideal physical and visual cues exists a damaged man, one at the end of his rope. While he may lash out at the wrongs the world has dealt him in ways that one may not always agree with, there exists some spark of kindness, some measure of redemption that lies beneath that hurt and he actively works towards that. Some of us, as readers, want to tease it like a stray thread from a tapestry and unravel it, hoping that it can reveal the person underneath. Someone good, strong, warm, careful yet assertive in his explorations, sweet, sexy, savvy, funny.
Travis Maddox isn't any of these things. Not from the portrayal that this book gives him, not by his actions, his thoughts, his overarching disrespect and disregard for anyone he loves or cares about including himself. The author also lacks ability to use any faculties in this retelling to truly delve and shape the character into anything that might invest into building the sort of character Maddox is. To be blunt, I couldn't help but feel this respective retelling was a lazy effort in its entirety because it really didn't bring that much more to the table than the previous book, and if anything made certain aspects either worse for wear, or taking a turn towards the absurd (the ENDING especially).
You guys already know the story, so I won't give a recap of events. Rather, I'll speak on what little new information this novel offers. In the prologue, Travis speaks upon the death of his mother as being the aspect that spurred him to "keep fighting" in the scheme of his life. I think many would say it's a difficult thing to lose a parent so young, and with a prolonged illness. Especially in the measure of having to say goodbye (I had to say goodbye to a grandmother who had complications from a massive stroke in a similar way). But the problem I had with McGuire's prologue was that there were many details missing as well as contradictory for the count. There's no indication of the illness Travis's mother suffered, how long she suffered, how old Travis was when he lost her (though it was implied that he was very young), and further - I did not understand the measure of fighting in the context of his mother's final words to Travis. I could understand - you know, a mother in desperation telling her son to live and experience all the things that this life has to offer, but the "fighting" bit never did make sense, especially with the overarching novel to consider.
I believe that is the only true explanation as to why Travis turns out to be an "angry" person, but even then, it's not substantiated because we never get an idea of what Travis's life was like with his mother, why he revered her so much, and how that played into his relationship with Abby. Fast forward several years later, Travis is a man who acts like a damaged boy, and while there could be potential to explore in detail what makes Travis regress and lash/act out in the way he does, McGuire never truly does it.
It's further confirmed by the fact that Travis justifies his mistreatment and stances in many forms. His voice comes across as bitter for much of the narrative. He hates on Shep and America's relationship because they're happy and doesn't hesitate to call Shep a "pussy". He hates on Parker because of his wealth and propensity to pick up the damaged girls that Travis leaves behind (which really isn't given any kind of specificity in this work). He hates on America for her weight and tendency to follow Shep around like a puppy, only "without the poop." (His words, not mine.)
And it's interesting that the most frequent subject of Travis's controlling, patronizing ways often ends up being the professed love of his life, Abby. "Hair like a porn-star" Abby who embodies this picture perfect image of a pigeon/dove in his mind. Something of an image of purity (though he criticizes Abby for being a virgin, which apparently he thinks is unheard of for a college age woman. He also shames her not so subtly for knowing where to find condoms.)
In a more mature narrative, you might find that there are dimensions that might try to address how a person like Travis would exert his crudeness in the false belief that it conveys love, but WD is not any measure close to that. It plays upon the drama, the conflict for the sake of conflict, without any true resonating factors or details. Travis is desired in light of his negative traits, and while WD could've used the space to expand from BD, where it was a problem, it managed to make the entire measure worse.
I think part of this was McGuire's inability to separate her narrative from her critics and properly expand details. The authorial intrusion in the previous novel had more to do with pushing along the story narrative and glorified elements that were problematic for the sake of drama, often bending characters into positions where desire, which would normally not be a part of the equation, suddenly was. Yet in this form of the story, Travis actually defends many of the actions he takes against the surrounding people in his life. He calls out "sluts" for what they wear or how they deserve to be treated after one night stands, thinks virginity among any college student is unheard of, and even berates Abby for what she's wearing and has the audacity to say "Call it sexist, but it's true."
A sexist comment is a sexist comment. No matter the darned package it's wrapped in. It's a backhanded insult to try to justify it that way. And there have been many critics who have called McGuire's narrative on these problematic elements, including the fact that Travis seems like a psychotic character, and there were a few references in this narrative that sounded eerily close to justifying his behavior in that way - from his own voice.
Travis has issues that would be intolerable if he were an actual living, breathing person. There was one moment in the narrative when Travis has a one-night stand in a drunken stupor that he completely blanks out on and is full of utter remorse, especially when he has this disconnect in the grocery store when he's trying to buy things for Abby in apology. But when you think about it, that's not a true measure of guilt as much as it is a gesture to KEEP HER THERE. To control her, to possess her. He even buys a wedding ring thinking that they will be together eventually after the biggest screw-up in their relationship to date. His rampage after the Vegas trip was just as disturbing as the first book, only we see a little more of the depression that he goes through in Abby's absence. I'm still weary of saying that was a worthy portrayal, but at least it was somewhat addressed.
The biggest telltale sign that McGuire was flipping off her critics, and also a sign of further contention for the problematic elements in this work - the epilogue, which takes place 11 years after they're married. I didn't expect to be laughing as hard as I did when I read the ending because it's not only so far from the plane of belief, I was also trying to offset horror at the implied notations behind this particular set of scenes. I do not know how anyone can take those resulting measures seriously. Travis, with his respective issues, would never be an FBI agent - his anger is too far along the scale for that, even with an 11 year window to change within. The fact that their children would be predispositioned to enacting violence at school, defending their mother from crude commentary, and one of the children beating up another girl for having a crush on her brother is just sad to me, because it automatically negates any growth that Travis might've had for his supposed former disposition to violence. And also on the note of a secret that Travis keeps from Abby for years that she suddenly forgives in a matter of moments, especially considering the weight/gravity of that notation on her personal safety/well-being, well, let's just say that I highly doubt anyone would be so quick to suddenly forgive that in the measure of screwing anyone who thought their marriage wouldn't last or saying in so many terms "It's okay, because I love you."
I think in putting this book down, I'm done with reading any future works of Jamie McGuire. For reals this time. Because her storylines are far too removed from the measure of anything realistic, desirable, or worthwhile that I could personally find in this. I will say that on the measure of having "book boyfriends" - I think we'll all have different tastes in what we find attractive in people, and that's something worth respecting. Some of us are turned on by different things - personalities, interests, physical features, emotional bonds, things of that nature. For me, Travis would never be a person I follow in his purported image because his thoughts, actions, rationalizations and sense of person are truly disturbing to me, and so far removed from reality and placed in the sake of drama that I could not support that, nor could I tolerate it in this respective narrative.
Overall score: 0.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Atria Books.