I know, I know. This is the second week in a row I’m doing my pre-post blurb with a girlfriend story, but – as you may recall – she’s abroad in South Korea, and this is a message I woke up to:
Apparently it’s Thai canned fermented mustard greens. Not pigeon. Or a fictional YA erotica-lite character, for that matter.
[Ariel says: I ate pigeon for the first time last night, and it made me feel gleeful.] [Matthew says: Is that a thing?!]
Chapter 12: Virgin
As you can see, subtlety isn’t Walking Disaster‘s selling point.
Travis recaps about a quarter of the analogous chapter of Beautiful Disaster and skips the other quarter completely, picking up the story halfway through only telling us that 1) he’s been drinking a lot, and 2) Parker ruined the surprise part of Abby’s surprise party, not telling us that Abby asked him to let her out of the bet in the cafeteria, causing a scene that evidently made the entire cafeteria stop eating and look over at the drama. Even though he mentions that “she’d barely spoken to me … since I refused to let her out of the bet”, which I assumed was the time he told her the bet was still on even though she didn’t actually ask, as opposed to another, distinct time that she explicitly did. This narrator of this book is referring to events that don’t even happen in this book. THANKS, DOUCHE.
[Ariel says: You’d think this would have been nice to include for people who had read Beautiful Disaster awhile before this book came out. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to even just mention, “Earlier, Abby had asked me to let her out of the bet” without replaying the whole scene.] [Matthew says: To be honest, he does, but I thought he was talking about the time she asked if the bet was still on, which did happen in this book, as opposed to another distinct event that isn’t mentioned. What if, like, Shakespeare wrote like this? At one point Hamlet goes “Doth thou rememberest that sweet party at Horatio’s where Rosencrantz and you-know-who hookedeth up?” and the audience is like “No, WTFeth”.]
Travis gets upset when Abby can’t go to dinner with him because she has a date with Parker, and she coldly dismisses him:
Abby perfected her lipstick. “I’m going out with Parker.”
“Again,” she lilted.
But then once Parker is in the room, she does a complete 180:
She threw her arms around my neck […] and smiled. “Thanks for organizing me birthday party,” she said, genuine appreciation in her voice. “Can I take a rain check on dinner?”
Okay, let’s assume for a moment that Abby is “spitting game”.
By which I mean let’s assume that Abby is trying to make Travis jealous to try to incite him to take her more seriously, get his shit together, and make a real move for Abby’s affection. That would seemingly be what she’s doing by being cold and distant to him while preparing to go on a date with another dude. Except then she acts warmly towards him when the other dude is there, which… would make the other dude jealous? The other dude that she’s already dating? Abby, you are a terrible pickup artist. Turn in your fedora and badge.
Abby leaves and Shepley and America decide to enable Travis’s alcoholism. They tell him he shouldn’t drive, but then they drive him to the liquor store. They tell him “Drowning your sorrows, yes”, but tell him “Mean drunk, no.” Phew! Good work, guys! If you hadn’t stepped in, he might have turned to alcohol to solve all of his problems instead of just most of them! [Ariel says: The power of friendship in this series is truly astounding to me.] Then they go to a liquor store called fucking “Ugly Fixer Liquor’s”, because this book is basically a cartoon.
Three hours later they hear Parker’s car bringing Abby back from the date, and Travis leaves “to help her out of the car”, which for some reason they think is a perfectly reasonable thing to allow a man who just drank an entire fifth of Jim Beam and just heard the girl he’s crazy about come back from a date with another man to do. [Ariel says: Do they actually believe that’s what he’s doing? I mean why would she even need helping getting out of the car in the first place?] America goes with Travis to go get Abby, and are for some reason completely surprised to walk in on Abby and Parker making out in his car.
America tells Travis that Abby’s “not going to let it go too far”. Travis responds by hitting the car window. Parker goes “What the hell, Travis?”, thus claiming the title of “Only Person Who Acts Realistically In This Entire Chapter”. There was very little competition this chapter, as we soon discover. [Ariel says: Yeah, until he buys Abby an outrageously expensive bracelet after dating her for a week while she’s living (and “platonically” sleeping) with another dude] [Matthew says: Haha whoops forgot about that. Sorry, dude. Award rescinded.] But first, Travis makes fun of Parker and his nickname for Abby.
The Porsche squealed out of the parking lot. […] “You can go in, now, Mare.” [Travis said]
“Why don’t you stay, Abs,” I said. The word felt ridiculous to say.
I wasn’t going to have sex with him!”
I waved my hand toward the empty space where Parker’s car sat. “What were you doing, then?”
Don’t worry. It manages to get dumber.
“Haven’t you ever made out with someone, Travis? Haven’t you ever just messed around without letting it get that far?”
That was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. “What’s the point in that?” Blue balls and disappointment.
I’m at a total loss of words here, so here’s an out of context SpongeBob gif that conveys my feelings.
(So I had this post written and then half a day later it occurred to me what bothers me about that line, and I think it’s because it’s a female author writing a male character. Which is not to say that women can’t write male characters (that’s so obviously not true it would be stupid to even begin listing examples), but rather that… you know the saying, “Write what you know?” Bad writers should especially stick to this, especially when they’re writing about sex. Something about Jamie McGuire writing Travis thinking “Only making out sounds stupid. You’d just get blue balls.” feels a lit like the cliched male writer writing a female character thinking “As I walked down the street, I thought about how perky my breasts felt that day.” [Ariel says: But that’s all I ever think when I walk down the street?])
BUT IT SOMEHOW GETS EVEN DUMBER.
“the car was bouncing… how was I supposed to know?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t spy on me!”
Spy on her?
And they continue to have zero self-awareness.
“I can’t stand this, Pigeon. I feel like I’m going crazy.”
“You can’t stand what?” (I’ve lost track of how many times Travis has almost explicitly confessed what “what” is to Abby by this point)
“If you sleep with him, I don’t wanna know about it. I’ll go to prison for a long time if I find out […]” (I think death threats are a pretty good point to start phasing someone out of your life, you know?)
“Travis.” She seethed. “I can’t believe you just said that! That’s a big step for me!”
“That’s what all girls say!” (This isn’t Heteronormativity 101, but it’s not like this is Heteronormativity 404: Senior Seminar, either.)
[…] “I haven’t… ugh! Never mind.” She took a few steps, but I grabbed her arm, turning her to face me.
“You haven’t what?” Even in my current state, the answer came to me. “You’re a virgin?” […] She was almost nineteen, and still a virgin? That was almost unheard of these days.
Okay, wait, I actually do have a few words I can say about this. Look, it’s really obvious that this is just supposed to convey Travis’s over-the-top manwhore character, and there’s nothing “bad” about a book from the perspective of a character at once completely ignorant of sexuality but also sexually promiscuous. What is bad is how it works in this book. There’s this thing called the “Madonna-Whore Complex“, which is a sexual politics mindset/social construct establishing a binary where people (usually women) can only be seen as a “Madonna” (pure, chaste virgins) or as a “whore” (debased and sexually promiscuous), with no area in between. And it’s not that a story that addresses this or has characters that fall into these roles in a black-and-white way is automatically “bad”, because there’s plenty a “good” story can say about this construct. Except how do you think, by this point, the story is going to end?
You probably assume that Abby will sleep with Travis and they’ll live happily ever after. And what can we analyze from such a story? That Abby’s virginity Others her – making her “not normal” – and thus losing her virginity will make her “normal”. Anything else? …Not really. Nothing else can be said about that ending. Abby develops, but here’s the real question:
To continue in the academic discourse I’ve adopted for this part of the post, fucking of course not. Travis will have sex with Abby and continue in his belief that sex is the shit. Abby will have sex will Travis and also learn that sex is the shit. Travis never has any reason to think that, “Hm, maybe I’ve had a very unhealthy understanding of sex”, because – after all – he’ll still be having sex, whereas Abby’s views on sex will be what changes. Sex “wins”. What does this story ultimately say about sexual politics? That sex is pretty great. Nothing deeper. Pun not intended.
Once again, BUT WAIT IT GETS WORSE. Travis goes on all “Whaaa’? I can’t believe it!” and falls on the stairs and then “my eyes turned fuzzy” and suddenly there’s a dream sequence? They’re in class and Abby’s wearing a prom dress and says “At the end of it all, I’m yours” and she starts making out with him. [Ariel says: I am so so lost. I feel like I actually need to read Walking Disaster but that probably wouldn’t give me any clarity. Why is she wearing a prom dress? Is this some kind of bizarre symbolism? Or is it just that a lot of people lose their virginity after prom supposedly?] She sticks her hand down his boxers, which is so sensational that only the prose of Travis Maddox can convey it:
Whatever awesomeness I’d felt before, it had just been surpassed.
Unfortunately, the awesomeness ends before it really gets going as dream-Abby sadly says she has to go and then says, “Try harder.” The awesomeness really goes away when Travis wakes up and realizes it was all a dream. The awesomeness really really super duper goes away when Travis learns, nope, some of that really did happen when he blacked out the previous night, and it wasn’t the going to class part.
Abby turned. Her expression was different from what I’d seen before. I wasn’t sure how to read it. “Do you remember anything you said to me last night?” she asked.
“No. Why? Was I mean to you?”
“No you weren’t mean to me! You… we…” She covered her eyes with her hands. […] I recalled Abby telling me she was a virgin, me falling, and then Abby helping me to get undressed… and then I… Oh, God. […] The memory of me crashing against her while she stood in front of the closet half naked rushed into my mind.
I had almost fucked her, taken her virginity when I was drunk. The thought of what might have happened made me feel ashamed for the first time since… ever. […] I’d stopped, but what if I hadn’t? Abby didn’t deserve for her first time to be like that with anyone, least of all me. […]
“You’re turning me into a fucking psycho, Pigeon,” I growled over my shoulder. “I don’t think straight when I’m around you.”
“So it’s my fault?”
“[…] I don’t know. My memory is a little hazy… but I don’t recall you saying no.”
Ariel and I covered most of what there is to say about this scene in yesterday’s post about this story’s horrifyingly blase attitude about consent (Abby is 100% sober and taking advantage of blackout drunk Travis), but I’d like to briefly (actually briefly) talk this time about agency, and how Travis seems to think female agency in sexual activity just isn’t a thing that exists. Travis talks about consent all the time (presumably so McGuire can pass this off as romance and not an episode of Law and Order: SVU), but he never really seems to consider female agency in sexual activity as a real thing (he never considers that Abby might want to engage in physical activity with Parker). Travis blames himself for almost sleeping with Abby, which is good, but note how he doesn’t blame Abby for this happening either, despite what I just wrote in parentheses paraphrasing yesterday’s talk about sober Abby taking advantage of obviously drunk Travis? I’m not saying he doesn’t share the blame here – hell, no – but what I’m saying is it takes two to tango.
[Ariel says: Remember, he only “conquers” the sluts. Even they don’t really have sexual agency.]
Obviously the only thing that can be done in this situation is for the people involved to talk about it. Obviously, that hasn’t happened once in this book and it’s not going to start now.
“What are we doin’, Pidge?”
Her eyes began at my belt, and then traveled slowly up to my eyes. “You tell me.”
Abby tells Travis they’ll talk about it later and leaves to go shopping with America, because that is obviously the highest priority right now. [Ariel says: Shopping > boys > math.]