Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire

Sometimes you just have to...
———

I feel dead inside. That’s what reading this book has done to me. I. feel. dead. inside.

Background information:
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon an incident—I lie, there were several—that inspired me to create such shelves as not-for-me and authors-behaving-badly and add this book with all the other books accredited to Jamie McGuire on them. This explains the first comment on this review thread.

I was angry and I rated the book poorly. Then I got over it and removed the rating, and for a while, forgot this book existed.

Ah, those were the happy days.

Then came summer and Simon & Schuster announced their massive brain fart of acquiring this novel and reprinting it. They made the choice to enhance their marketing campaign by allowing free review copies distributed through NetGalley. This was my one chance to read the novel for free and rate it in exchange for this simple tag:

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

In this case, the Advanced Readers Copy means the superficially edited self-published version.

Actual review:
I hated it. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t want to hate it. I don’t enjoy reading bad books for fun—I don’t like tormenting myself with bad literature—but neither do I start a book expecting to find something positive or other redeemable qualities. I don’t artificially skew my perception just so I can lie about what a good book this is.

It’s not.

Though McGuire seems incapable of using simple he said/she said dialogue tags, there were moments, bits of dialogue, and a set up most promising that in the hands of any other talented or even a competent author could have been solid gold. It could have been the the story of two flawed people falling in love and perhaps changing for the better even if not transforming utterly normal people instead of romanticised description of abuse and misogyny. There were things Travis said or did that in any other setting and context would have been touching, sweet, deliciously heart-rending—but this was Travis and those things were anything but.
 
“Coupled with the alcohol in my system, when he pulled my body against his, things came to mind that were anything but friendly.”

McGuire’s simplistic writing is readable, even likeable at times, but it’s also uneven. There are good bits and then there are horribly bad bits. There were times when I’d forget to stop and think what made sense and what didn’t, and I’d just plough through pages without even realising it. Then the only recollection I’d have was having felt something. If I wasn’t paying attention to what it made me feel, I would—could, possibly, perhaps—understand why some people would think this a good book.

But I didn’t just plough through the pages. I read them slowly, carefully taking notes and always thinking of what made sense and what didn’t—very little, as it turns out.

Can a story be character driven without characterisations?

Apart from Travis’ tattoos—those tattoos are mighty important since they define what he can study and what his future career going to be—not a single character in this book is given a proper, layered, characterisation. Not all characters are given physical descriptions, even Shepley, who as Travis’ cousin-slash-roommate and America’s boyfriend is prominently portrayed secondary character, is never given a physical description. To this day I don’t have a clue as to what he looks like. I know Abby and America are both blonds, I know Travis is tattooed all over and has hazel eyes, I even have a vague impression of Parker, but other than that I do not know. It’s never revealed.

What I do know is that Shepley is the lapdog enabler. He exists to be America’s boyfriend and provide a link between Travis and Abby. He exists to among others to make excuses for Travis’ behaviour. He doesn’t have any other function in this story.

America ("Alice") is Abby’s best friend the Weathervane. Depending on the scene she’s either trying to keep Abby and Travis apart or trying to get them together. She’s always dreamt of her and Abby dating brothers or cousins, so they could become real family or something other. America exists to drive Abby around and to scold her either for resisting Travis or not resisting him enough.

Parker is the token third wheel, a secondary love interest option paper doll. He’s rich and a hardworking student, but ultimately he’s just another jerk and not a viable third corner of a triangle—and that honour he has to share with Jesse, the ex-boyfriend. Parker exists to flirt with Abby and to make Travis jealous when the mood strikes. He also exists to prompt a casual date rape scenario.

Finch is the token gay guy. He exists to provide Abby with alcohol and a shoulder to cry on whenever America is lip-locked with Shepley and too busy to notice.

Kara is the roommate who we never see. She exists to make a handful of accurate comments and remains the sole remotely likeable character in the book.

Abby giggles. She studies high school level biology in college and sucks at it. She apparently likes numbers but hardly ever talks about those classes. She has a dark, dark past that’s never talked about until it’s all that’s talked about. She likes to drink and plays a mean game of poker. All these details and I still don’t know what drives her. I don’t know what her inner passions are or how she thinks and the book is written from her perspective in the first person limited voice.

“This is hard for me, ya know. I feel like any second you’re going to figure out what a piece of shit I am and leave me. When you were dancing last night, I saw a dozen different guys watching you. You go to the bar, and I see you thank that guy for your drink. Then that douchebag on the dance floor grabs you.

Travis prizefights for money. He’s a genius and he doesn’t need to study. Travis has a short temper, cocky attitude, a dead mother, four brothers and a father who taught him everything he knows about beating other people up. Travis has tattoos. Travis has a six pack—such a shame it’s not a twelve pack—and he’s never met a speed limit he couldn’t break. Drunk or sober.
 
“I wouldn’t have swung if I thought I could have hit you. You know that, right?”

Travis doesn’t hit Abby. He comes into the bathroom when she’s in the shower. He comes up with a bet to keep her in the house with her. He talks her into sleeping in the same bed as him, because he’s never brought a girl he’s fucked there. He forces her to change her clothes when she dresses up too sexy. He grabs her to keep her safe. He stalks her. He buys her a puppy to stop her from leaving. He scares her when she is in the car kissing another man. He trashes the house the morning after they have sex because she leaves and refuses to talk to him. He beats up several guys for simply touching her.

And she lets him.
 
”Travis’s behavior piqued their curiosity, and I subdued a smile at being the only girl they had seen him insist on sitting with.”

”It wasn’t Parker I was trying to impress. I wasn’t in a position to be insulted when Travis accused me of playing games, after all.”

Worse, she’s manipulating him right back. On one occasion Abby tells Travis to teach someone manners, and he beats the guy to a pulp. There aren’t any repercussions or a fallout. Several of these unprovoked attacks happen outside the illegal prizefighting circles with plenty of eyewitnesses around. Yet, Travis is never detained, arrested, or even confronted by his friends. They’re all making excuses for him.

Abby’s reactions to Travis’ behaviour make no sense. She’s either blaming herself or acting irrationally and manipulating the situation to her end. She’s playing with Travis just as much he’s playing with her as evidenced by the events of the night they first sleep together. She tells him he’s a virgin, he tells her he likes it rough, they have sex—one of the few times condoms were used—and in the morning, she leaves. He trashes the house. America the worst friend who ever lived, comes to get Abby to talk Travis down. Not to make sure that Abby is safe and sound and far away from the psycho as possible, but to fetch her to the house so she can talk to Travis and calm him. So she can understand him.

The abuse, the antifeminism, the misogyny, the casual slut shaming, rape threads, girl-on-girl hate, it’s all omnipresent. You can’t avoid it.

Character driven stories rely on one essential idea: That the main character learns something. That all the pain and heartache, all the adventures that they experience within the story enrich them as a human being and make them grow as a person. Not necessarily for the better, but simply more aware. On some level the characters do need to be conscious of their actions and choices they make in the end of the book in a way they weren’t at the start of it.

In this Beautiful Disaster fails.

Travis does forsake all others but he isn’t any better taking into account Abby’s feelings in the end of the book than he is in the beginning of it. As for Abby, life is still a huge poker game she’ll bluff her way through like it was before she met Travis. Well, maybe not bluff, but she’s always had a talent of manipulating the cards in her favour.

Instead of bare boned characters who apparently learn nothing within the four hundred and twenty odd ebook pages, I could be talking about the overall plot of the book. Except, there isn’t one:

A girl goes to see a fight. A girl meets a boy. They skip time and become friends. They make a bet and end up living under the same roof. They dance around each other and a girl tries dating another guy. The boy gets jealous and they sleep together. The bet has ended and the girl leaves. Boy gets angry. Girl comes back. They fight and the girl tries to leave. The boy gets her a puppy to make her stay—

This isn’t a plot. This is a list of consecutive events describing a dysfunctional codependent relationship. Of course, we could call it a relationship drama, but we’d also have to redefine words relationship and drama. There’s no internal conflict. Nothing is addressed and nothing is learned. All obstacles are external ones and easily cast aside.

But this is a romance novel about two people finding love together, you say.

No. It’s not.

This is as mislabelled as a romance as it was mislabelled as a young adult novel. There is absolutely nothing romantic about this book. It’s the author’s ode to "Edward's" Travis’ character. A controlling, abusive, stalker is in the centre of everything and the reader can’t escape him even when Abby is on a date with another man. The conversation always quickly returns to Travis and stays there. 
 
By now the strikethroughs have become obvious; I’m bringing up the Twilight connection:

This book reads like a Twilight fanfiction or work heavily inspired by Twilight.

America behaves as bipolar as Alice, and Travis is set upon a pedestal and worshipped just like Edward was. Travis shares Edward’s penchant for speeding. Travis and Abby’s first date is in a restaurant where the waiter flirts with him and he starts questioning him over the food. The biology lessons and the absent parent figures. Abby likes to bite her lip almost as much as Kristen Steward in her portrayal of Bella Swan. Parker Hayes reads like a distorted Mike Newton. etc. etc.

There isn’t any proof that I’m aware of to show that this ever was posted and labelled as a Twilight fanfiction. I’m going to have to go with the “inspired” by Twilight theory and keep my opinions to myself…

It looks like I failed too.
1 hateful star
 
Other notable (and negative) reviews for Beautiful Disaster

48 comments:

  1. *applauds*
    Bravo Bravissimo!
    Excewllent review Rameau! You put me to shame with my silly little reviews

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I actually think this is just a pathetic attempt to collect my most pertinent thoughts of the book. I left all my passion and rage in the Goodreads book status updates.

      Delete
    2. It was still glorious :=)

      Delete
  2. Wow that is a review! I was curious about this one but as everyone took it I decided to pass. Even my co-blogger has it. Well now I'm glad I choose other books. thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I can't claim I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but sometimes I'm an idiot and I need to prove it.

      Delete
  3. Well, I've been following your updates on Goodreads, so I knew what was coming. :) I've reviewed this one when she still was self-published and when a lot of people I know raved about this book, and I was furious. What a horrible destructive message to give to young girls, that abusive controlling relationship is OK, that paranoia is a sign of love. I can not stand this book. Fab review, Rameau!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It is a truly vile book, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that.

      Delete
  4. Yikes! Great review. I guess if I want to branch out into YA, I shouldn't start with this book. I've seen the cover all over the blogosphere, and I've been wondering what the hype is all about. *scratches head*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, I don't understand the appeal either.

      No, it's not the book to start branching out into YA with, although, I have a handful of suggestions if you're truly interested.

      Delete
  5. Let me tell you just one thing. I was so exhausted after just skimming Beautiful Disaster I didn't feel like writing anything else than a very superficial, short, good-for-nothing review. Such books leave you so empty, angry and disgusted that it is really hard to gather your thoughts in a coherent manner.

    An excellent review, rameau! You did so much better than me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember that. I was still reading the first half and raging on daily basis. Depression caught me while I was reading the second half.

      And thank you.

      Delete
  6. Oh wow, I've seen lots of hype over this one lately. Just yesterday I saw a rave review.
    I enjoyed reading your detailed review!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can see this is a love it or hate it kind of book. My friends are in both camps but I know it's not going to be the right book for me so I've just stayed away from it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for the review - I think I'll skip this one.

    ReplyDelete
  9. wow. Tell us how you really feel. :D

    hahaha, great review though! I love it when people are honest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I left all the passion and rage in the Goodreads status updates, this is all I have this time.

      Delete
  10. I think I'll just stay the hell away from this. Thanks for the review and for suffering for all of our sakes ;)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm just kind of amused that someone finally called this out as fanfic. I read it way back and it reeked of the "core" group of characters (her other books do too.) I suspect this is what appeals to her readers, and the writing style (lack of plot, sudden addition of "plot" horrible acceptable behavior) is the basis of twifanfic (trust me. i know) Anyway, thanks for the honest review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, it's been called that many a times, there just isn't any proof--er, other than what's in the book. I belong to a group who tries to keep track of (Twilight) fanfiction that has been pulled to publish and people always ask is this one of those.

      So, I'm not the only who thinks it, I'm just getting used to saying it.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  12. This review is the reason I refuse to read this book. Thanks for reminding me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome. I'm glad I could help.

      Delete
  13. Sounds like Disaster is apt but not the Beautiful ... not for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's quite accurate, and good choice. Save yourself!

      Delete
  14. Oh dear. This doesn't sound like my kind of book in any way, shape, or form. I will definitely steer clear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good choice, glad I could help.

      Delete
  15. Even before this review, I didn't think it was my type of book. Now after the review - I know it's not!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I'm glad I could help.

      Delete
  16. Wow Rameau! I really do admire you for writing such a detailed review. If I dislike a book this much, I am certainly not going to spend any more time on it. Heck, I would never have finished it in the first place.

    I do hope you will enjoy your next book a lot better.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Books like this leave you with such negative feelings that the only way not to explode is to express them. Great review. I'm definitely not going to read this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. It definitely was a cleansing experience writing this review.

      Delete
  18. Ooh, I thought this book would be awesome! Maybe I was wrong. I might try this one when it's very cheap! :) lol. Great, honest review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not everyone agrees with me, but I'd rather you wait and save your money than be bitterly disappointed.

      Delete
  19. why did you torture yourself. gr8 review

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because sometimes you (read I) have to prove to the world what an idiot you are (read I am). Quite simple. And thank you.

      Delete
  20. I really enjoyed this, and as I stated in my review it should not ever be labeled as YA. I think it offers a unique look into dysfunctional people and their relationships and the roll of enablers. Sadly they do exists.
    Great review and I appreciate your perspective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. The mislabeling is definitely something we can agree on. Unfortunately, the author spread the myth by claiming the book was YA when it suited her.

      Delete
  21. So it wasn't just the audio that made it seem over the top? I held out hope!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You listened to it? Oh, you poor, poor thing. It definitely wasn't just the audio. It was the book itself.

      Delete
  22. How did you really feel!! LOL! :D Thanks for this wonderful review. I've seen this book all over lately and everyone just seems to be praising it left and right. I won't be rushing to get to my ARC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. It's a mystery to me how this book has gets such good ratings and reviews.

      Delete
  23. I haven't heard of this book but after reading your review I have absolutely no interest in finding out more about it. It doesn't sound appropriate for YA readers at all.

    ReplyDelete

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