Domestic Abuse 101, or “He only does it because he loves me”

Beautiful Disaster (2011)
Beautiful Disaster (2011)

I wasn’t going to waste another second of my life on Beautiful Disaster after buying it and reading it last summer (to my everlasting shame). As of late, however, I’ve been seeing a disturbing amount of positive interest in Jamie McGuire’s book online, and I just couldn’t contain myself any longer.  I had a hard time wording this post, because as a rule I try to be fair in my reviews.  Even if I absolutely hate the book (like A Discovery of Witches) I still try to point out who might enjoy it.

But this book…. This book makes me want to make like Harry Potter and kill it with poison, so it implodes on itself and spares everyone a world of misery.

TomRiddleDiary

Where do I start?  At it’s core, this is the story of Abby Abernathy (nice alliteration, by the way), a good college girl just trying to study Accounting and stay out of trouble.  But then she meets Travis “Mad Dog” Maddox, a gorgeous, troubled, tattooed sex machine, with a reputation for illegal fighting and fucking anything that moves.  Abby can tell he’s bad news, but her avoidance makes him crazy for her.  So he tricks her into some stupid bet where if he loses he has to abstain for a month, and if he wins she has to live with him for a month.  Of course, they fall hopelessly in lust and become a couple, but they have serious issues to overcome before they can have a successful relationship.

On the surface, it doesn’t sound much different or any more malignant than your average brand of YA crap – but this book is TOXIC!  I can’t understand how Beautiful Disaster was actually published, much less how it’s so highly rated or, worse yet, how a woman wrote it.  My jaw just absolutely drops at all of the girls online swooning over Travis’ bulging biceps and his apparently touching protectiveness and devotion.  If by “touching” you mean “scary as fuck”, then yes, his actions are incredibly “touching”.

You see, Travis is the kind of guy who beats the shit out of another guy just for looking at Abby, or touching her arm at a party.  He’s the kind of guy who forbids her to leave the apartment because he doesn’t like the way she’s dressed, and when she does sneak out while he’s sleeping he proceeds to blow up her phone with frantic calls, and trash his own apartment in a blind rage.  I can only assume that the type of girls who think that this level of mental instability sounds sweet and loving must be the same idiots who Tweet this kind of shit about the known woman-beater, Chris Brown:

25 Extremely Upsetting Reactions To Chris Brown At The Grammys

Or this:

upsetting reactions - chris brown

Do you feel sick to your stomach yet?  I did these girls a courtesy by blurring out their faces, because somebody here should have some dignity.  And if they’re not already ashamed of themselves, they fucking should be.  You’d let a Chris Brown or a Travis Maddox beat you up because, why?  Because he’s pretty?  It doesn’t matter if he’s a piece of shit human being; if he has a pretty face, it’s okay if he fucks up yours?  So the message we’ve apparently drilled into today’s girls is that the pursuit of a pretty face is more important than your own emotional or physical well being…oh wait.  I guess that’s exactly the message we’ve been fed, and shame on McGuire for contributing to it!

But wait, there’s more!  Abby’s best friend is one of like two voices of reason trying to point out how twisted and destructive the relationship is.  But instead of using this as an opportunity to turn the story around and have Travis get some professional help, or for Abby to get some clarity and leave him, McGuire chooses to characterize Abby’s friend as a bitch, and her input goes unheeded.  After Abby breaks up with Travis (for like half a second) she turns around and marries him, AND brands herself for eternity as “Mrs. Maddox” via tattoo.  You know, in case you missed the oh-so subtle suggestions of possessiveness and objectification that really just weave this thing together.

There are some great reviews on Goodreads from other like-minded gals like Sophia and Hayley.  Where I am comparatively passive in my hatred of this book, these two have very animated and well-developed arguments detailing its awfulness.  In Sophia’s case, McGuire herself (in addition to other authors in an increasingly vicious online brawl) responded with a blogpost that she later took down (but that one helpful blogger had the foresight to screenshot!).  Her main response to haters of the book seems to be that it’s absurd to think that “emotionally scarred” people don’t fall in love, but that her fans “get” it.  [Awkward silence.]  Honey…do you “get” it?  Do you really think that’s why a lot of people take exception to this content?

Travis Maddox isn’t just some tattooed hunk with anger issues – he’s a prison sentence waiting to happen.  And what McGuire doesn’t seem to “get” is that those of us who are disgusted with this book are offended by the fact that his hair-trigger rage and stalker-like fixation with Abby are presented as DESIRABLE.  What she doesn’t seem to “get” is that this book would have been a great opportunity to point out the 25 warning signs of domestic violence, or the fact that Travis exhibits 15 of them!  It would have been a stellar chance to break away from the unfortunate pattern set down by Twilight and exacerbated by Fifty Shades of Grey where women apparently no longer have brains in their heads with which to think for themselves, so instead they just dumbly go along with whatever Mr. Muscles decides is best for them, like good little drones.  It would have been a great platform to encourage women in bad relationships to empower themselves to leave their abusive partners, instead of romanticizing Travis’ possessiveness and jealousy and turning him into some kind of demented dreamboat.

As a woman, I find this book offensive and insulting, and I personally think that any woman who idealizes Travis Maddox as some standard of sexiness and desirability seriously needs to shake her head.  And what kills me is that this book is targeted as young adult fiction!!!  Now, I’ve made no secret on this blog that I love the kind of paranormal romance books with the sexy, brooding and heavy-handed types.  The difference is that in the books that I support, the women aren’t brainless automatons willing to go along with whatever the men decree.  They know their own minds, they don’t take shit from anyone, and by the closing pages a reasonable BALANCE is reached.  This balance is glaringly lacking in Beautiful Disaster, and as a result what we have here is a travesty in 12-point font, masquerading as a modern day “romance” and conspicuously missing a key message:

Maybe you can’t always help who you love, but sometimes that love is TOXIC and the best thing you can do for yourself is walk away.

I was considering ditching this book at my local used bookstore (like, with tongs so I don’t have to touch it again), but part of me wants to keep it in case I ever have daughters.  Then I can just hand over a veritable ready-made manual on the kind of relationships to avoid like the plague, a life-lesson from which Abby (and McGuire) might surely have benefited.

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