That didn’t take long. [Ariel says: Matt, I read the title of this post before I read the actual chapter and immediately ticked off the “things moving too quickly” space on the Bingo Board because I’m going to argue the Chicken Joe adventure did count as a first date, and why the fuck is Trenton already declaring they’re going to fall in love?]
Cami goes to hang out with her coworkers at the bar before opening, even though she doesn’t work that day. We’ve gone to the bar Cami works at twice now, and she hasn’t even had a shift yet, because everybody who works at this bar never goes anywhere else, apparently. Speaking of everybody who works at this bar, the Beautiful and/or Disaster series continues its penchant for writing insanely unappealing characters. We’re introduced to:
- Jorie, whose first sentence describing her is “If it was possible to flirtatiously chomp on a piece of gum, she was doing it”, so that’s Jorie. She’s also dating:
- Hank, who “was responsible for the end of at least a dozen marriages in our little town” and “was notorious for paying attention to barely legal young women just long enough to dip his stick”, so he sounds lovely. [Ariel adds: Matthew, you completely forgot the epic romantic backstory of Jorie and Hank that is defo going to get it’s own fucking spinoff. Jorie refused to date Hank who is, like, 12 years older and a total manwhore like 60% of the men in this town based on what we know about this place. Anyway, Jorie decided to date Hank once he changed for her, which is the foundation of at least 40% of all relationships in this town.]
- Tuffy, who was a bouncer, but got fired, and then was rehired as a DJ, until he got fired again after his third divorce, and is now on his fourth wife and got rehired checking IDs at the door, and now we know who the most insanely depressing character in this series is. And also how seriously nobody is ever not going to this stupid bar.
- Gruber, who is on the football team [Ariel adds: There is a really long part of this scene dedicated to explaining how Kody call’s him Booby, and how it used to be funny, but now it’s not. Also, Kody played football too until he busted his knee. Then he couldn’t be the start of the team anymore, and Gruber gives him shit. SO NOW YOU KNOW.]
- Rafe, who is a DJ and, fuck it, it’s not like we’re going to remember who any of these interchangeably awful characters are
Lastly, we meet Blia, who returns us to what’s really important: how big a deal it is to literally every person in this town that Cami and Trenton are totally gonna bang.
“Holy shit the bed, Cami! Debra Tillman told my mom that you were at Chicken Joe’s with Trenton Maddox!” Blia said.
Oh, Blia, you’re already my least favorite character. [Ariel says: Forget the Students Without Netflix, it’s all about the Coworkers Without Netflix this time around. Whooooole new book, guys!]. And Travis technically counts as a character in this book, so that’s pretty impressive. Cami explains that Trenton brought a little girl he was babysitting and coerced her into going, which prompts Jorie to ask if TJ knows and if that isn’t awkward.
Raegan sat down on a stool, and Kody stood next to her. “I can’t find my damn keys. I’ve looked for them everywhere!”
I leaned forward. “Seriously?” Our apartment keys were on that key ring.
Now, this would seemingly be the most obvious hint ever that Trenton stole the keys in what the novel will inevitably misconstrue as a romantic gesture, but it’s actually way stupider than that. [Ariel says: Oh my god, I’m so happy you said that, because I wrote, “Quick, change the locks, Trent’s a’ coming! In my notes as soon as this happened.]
We all sucked in a collective gasp when TJ appeared. He was holding up a set of shiny keys. […]
“What are you doing here?” I whispered.
“I felt horrible.”
“That’s sweet, but what are you really doing here?”
TJ sighed. “The job. […] I can’t stay. My plane leaves in an hour. […] I debated whether it would be worse to only see you for a second, or to not see you at all.”
TJ leaves literally as soon as he got there, making his first actual appearance about two pages. When Ariel and I made the “arbitrary love triangle is arbitrary” joke on the Bingo board, I didn’t think it’d be this transparently arbitrary. (Don’t forget the bingo board! This is a great chapter to play it with!) [Ariel says: I’m sorry I linked to it at the start of this post already, but whatever, click it twice; it’s worth it.]
Of course, this is a Jamie McGuire novel, so everybody is a disgusting human being. (I’ll get into this more later.)
“If you ask me,” Hank said, crossing his arms over his chest, “that little bastard rushed home to piss on you real quick.”
This is a reference to how animals urinate on things to mark their territory, but the book doesn’t really make it clear that this is a metaphor, so it just makes it seem like TJ is into some really weird stuff.
Everybody keeps asking Cami about how WEIRD it is that TJ isn’t threatened by Trenton. Just in case we’re being too subtle, it’s WEIRD.
Blia rested her cheek on her hand. “Holy shit balls, Cami. Your whole situation is complicated.”
Oh dear God, that’s her catchphrase? We’re going to have to read some crude derivation on “holy shit” that doesn’t even make sense multiple times throughout this book? Holy shit sandwich! See, I can portmanteau two sayings both vaguely involving shit too. It only makes both of them sound stupider. [Ariel says: Holy shit the bed, I never ever thought that I’d find Anastasia Steele’s use of “holy shit” to be preferable to another characters’. To be fair, though, I say holy shit balls, but definitely not ‘holy shit the bed’ and definitely not within the same hour.]
Later, Trenton shows up uninvited at Cami’s apartment in the rain, because romance. [Ariel says: And excuses to take clothes off. I can’t believe that wasn’t on the bingo board! “Male protagonist finds excuse to remove clothes and show off muscles” it was right under our noses!]
My cell phone buzzed. It was Trenton.
“Open your door, loser. It’s raining.”
What about not opening a door for someone you don’t know is there make you a loser? Why is calling someone a loser supposed to be flirtatious? Why does Trenton sound like Regina George?
Cami offers Trenton a dry change of clothing, because obviously.
“Think Kody will mind if I go commando under his sweats?”
“Yes, and so will I,” I said.
Trenton feigned disappointment.
The book does not acknowledge that offering your roommate’s significant other’s clothes to someone without their permission is kind of a dick move, but whatever, Trenton getting naked around Cami wasn’t going to shoehorn its way into this novel so soon otherwise. Holy shit butt naked! (See? Still stupid.) [Ariel says: Kara, roommate of the century, would never have stood for this bullshit.]
Trenton explains that he’s there because Raegan told him Cami was alone and bored, which is a good thing to tell to a notorious womanizer whom your roommate has expressly stated they have no interest in. Trenton continues to have no other character outside of being an obnoxious, presumptive, testoterone-driven asshole:
“[Olive] is fucking adorable. I’m going to have to kill at least one teenage boy one of these days.”
He turns on a football game on the TV, and is surprised when Cami expresses disappointment not in the game, but how much the Forty-Niners suck this year, because women, ya know? Holy shit sportsball!
I looked over to Trenton when I realized he was staring at me. “What?”
“I was just thinking now was as good a time as any to acknowledge that you’re perfect and it wouldn’t suck if you fell madly in love with me anytime soon.”
True. I guess if we’re being so transparent about how little the narrative structure matters to this book, only 16% of the way into the book is pretty literally as good a time as any. [Ariel adds: Holy shit cliches, I can’t express how much I hate the whole “female protagonist makes vaguely knowledgable comment about sports. Is labeled perfect immediately” trope.]
Amazingly, Cami’s reaction is pretty blandly emotionless:
“I have a boyfriend,” I reminded him.
Opposite of amazingly, Trenton’s response continues to be obnoxious and presumptive.
He waved me away. “Speed bump.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “He’s a pretty hot speed bump.”
Trent scoffed. “You’ve seen me nearly naked, baby doll. You long-distance boy doesn’t look anything like this.”
I watched as he flexed his arm.
Just in case you were wondering if Trenton would ever treat Cami as anything other than an object any time soon, the book answers with a resounding, deafening “no”:
“Everyone knows about the Maddox brothers.”
“Especially,” Trenton said, standing up on the cushions and putting one foot on one side of me, the other he wedged between me and the arm of his couch, “this Maddox brother!” He began bouncing and, at the same time, flexing his muscles in different poses.
I’m not even mad about the disgusting levels of heteronormativity and machismo in this book anymore. Now I’m just really confused about I’m even reading. [Ariel says: I am actually impressed this book turned me off in ways I didn’t even know were possible. I thought Travis and Gideon and Christian had covered all of those bases, but I was missing Trenton Maddox.]
This turns into sexy play-fighting before this absolutely priceless exchange happens:
“We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of wrong. If I was your girlfriend, would you think this is okay?”
“Hell yeah. I’d expect this shit to be a nightly event.”
“No. I mean with someone else.”
Trenton’s face fell. “Definitely not.”
For fuck’s sake, what’s he acting all offended about? He’s doing this exact same thing that he’s just declared isn’t okay behavior as an absolute. This is the shit I hate about this series. The men in it act so fucking entitled, but then also deeply offended that people would ever consider acting so dishonorably, which would be as dishonorably as they do, literally all the time.
Case in point:
“Cal said that he’s for sure going to need someone at the desk. […] He said, and I quote, ‘Someone hot, Trent. Someone with nice tits.'”
I’m trying to imagine what mindset you have to be in to write a character who uses lines like this to get the girl, never changes from this “by golly, if this doesn’t get a girl wet, bitch just can’t take a compliment” attitude, and is a character the reader is supposed to be rooting for. [Ariel says: And falling in love with. There are women out there who want to marry a Maddox brother.] Holy shit personality.
“Every girl’s dream job.” [Cami said.] Answering phones and handing out waivers while being ordered around by a sexist asshole.”
“He’s not an asshole. Sexist, yes, but not an asshole.”
It’s nice that there are romantic dreamboat men like Trenton to mansplain that sexism and asshole-ism are mutually exclusive behaviors for the rest of us.
I’d like to go on a brief tangent about unlikeable characters for a moment here, because I just recently started reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (go read it!), which has an essay on unlikeable characters in fiction that really got me thinking. In the essay, titled “Not Here to Make Friends”, Gay describes how:
In literature, as in life, the rules are all too often different for girls. There are many instances in which an unlikeable man is billed as an antihero, earning a special term to explain those ways in which he deviates from the norm, the traditionally likeable. […] When women are unlikeable, it becomes a point of obsession in critical conversations by professional and amateur critics alike. Why are these women daring to flaunt convention? Why aren’t they making themselves likeable (and therefore acceptable) to polite society? […] A reader [is] here to make friends with the characters in a book and [doesn’t] like what she found.
This got me thinking about my complaints on this blog about characters like Abby’s friend America, or anyone from House of Night. I frequently criticized America for being the world’s worst best friend, and railed against Zoey’s selfishness, racism, homophobia, and lack of self-awareness. In my defense, I criticize male characters in these books just as much, if not more (although that may be because unlike Anastasia Steel, Christian Gray actually has a character to dislike), but this is a very, very partial defense, partly because of feminist literary theory (I’ll probably get into this more at a more relevant time), but also partly because of the unlikeable character as a concept. So what if I don’t like these characters? Male or female? The point of reading stories isn’t, as Gay explains, to make friends. Maybe Trenton Maddox is an antihero – that really mucks up my argument, huh?
[Ariel says: In my opinion, you don’t have to defend yourself at all, Matt. I don’t think we’re necessarily are hating on these women because they’re daring to flaunt conventions…for me, a massive part I hate them is precisely because we’re constantly told they’re flaunting conventions but they’re not. It’s because they’re such poorly drawn, awful characters that are unfortunately the product of incredibly lazy and shitty writing. To be fair, though, I personally like Aphrodite, Kara, and even Tris has her moments where I’m a big fan. Not lately. But when I read the first book!
You can write an unlikable character that is interesting and compelling (and maybe even likeable in some ways), but none of these characters have that, and that’s the difference. For instance, I love Buffy but there were times I hated her, that she infuriated me, but it didn’t make me hate the character (or the show) as a whole. Your friends aren’t perfect, and you don’t always get along with them, but for me that’s one of my favourite things about a story. I mainly come to make friends. Just not friends with these bozos.]
In a later essay, “How We All Lose”, Gay further defends unlikeable characters, this time (somewhat unexpectedly) with an example about a womanizing man:
This is fiction, and if people cannot be flawed in fiction there’s no place left for us to be human.
This insight kicks ass, and yet I complain about unlikeable characters a lot on this blog. But I don’t feel like I’m particularly wrong. And defending my criticism with “but they’re supposed to be likeable, though!” isn’t relevant, because the book is what it is regardless (AKA the intentional fallacy). But instead of the “fiction” part of Gay’s statement, maybe the answer is in the “human” part. We’re all familiar with the expression “To err is human”, but none of the erring we see from the Trenton Maddoxes and Christian Greys (or Zoeys) of the literary world feel very human. If the point of flawed, unlikeable people in fiction is to provide a place to let the reader feel that side of humanity, I think it’s fair to criticize those qualities when the air in that place is too thin to support human life.
ANYWAY, back to our smut.
Cami doesn’t begin considering taking the job until, suddenly, an arbitrary reason for her to raise money appears! Holy shit sin of convenience!
“I’m a little behind [on car payments,” Coby texted me.] “I was wondering if you could spot me some cash.”
My blood ran cold. The last time Coby got behind on his bills, it was because he was sinking his entire paycheck into steroids. […]
“Are you using again?”
“Really, Cami? Goddamn…”
“Really. Are you using?” […]
Surprise! A minor character suddenly has a drug problem out of nowhere that exists primarily to make the main character look like a great person. Wait a second, this sounds oddly familiar…
Yes. Beautiful Oblivion has just The Room‘d us. This is the quality of the book we’re reading right now: It’s just lifted a narrative device from The Room, because it worked out so well that time.
[Ariel says: It also stole the plot of Beautiful/Walking Disaster…you know where Abby’s dad needed money, so he was like, “Okay, go gamble for me in Vegas becuz you stole all my luck. Thanks, bai.”
Cami agrees to pay the bill if Coby enrolls in a program for his drug abuse.
But because Cami now needs the money to help out Coby,
she tells Trenton
the job. Holy shit oh hi Mark, you guys, it’s The fucking Room.
Question of the day! What’s the best fake Blia-ism you can come up with? It’s super easy and it doesn’t even have to make sense, because it’s not like they do anyway. Holy shit on a hot tin roof! Holy shitcar named desire! See? Dead simple.