Beautiful Disaster, by Jamie McGuire

Now that E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has established itself as the new sales standard to beat, the publishing world is scrambling to fill bookshelves with titles that are as similar to the Grey series as possible, no matter how ridiculous they are. (After all, rampant ridiculousness was no barrier to the success of either Fifty Shades of Grey or its source material, Twilight.) This is why you can suddenly find Anne Rice's nearly thirty-year-old S&M take on Sleeping Beauty at your local Target, and it goes a long way towards explaining the heavy promotion of Jamie McGuire's "New Adult" novel Beautiful Disaster.

Beautiful Disaster steers clear of the kinky sex featured in James's series, but it does inhabit an equally overheated emotional landscape. McGuire's heroine is Abby Abernathy, a straight-laced—at least on the surface—and levelheaded college freshman. Her love interest is Travis Maddox, a notorious campus figure who spends his days dazzling his teachers with his genius and his nights either cage-fighting, drinking, or seducing most of the school's female population, who apparently find his tattoos and budding alcoholism (and presumably rampant STDs) irresistible. Abby initially manages to withstand Travis's charms, but a month-long bet gives their sexually-charged new friendship even more intensity, and they plunge into a relationship as rocky as it is passionate.

McGuire's book reads like a fanfic written by an imaginative but unbelievably silly seventeen-year-old. The language flows, the book is easy to read, and the characters are... well, let's call them “vivid”, but the story itself is bone-deep stupid. I have a basic test for romance writing: can I picture the characters hanging out together on a Tuesday night, five years after the end of the story? Beautiful Disaster passes that test, but only because Travis is so hugely dysfunctional that I can't imagine him surviving more than a year or two without Abby's constant presence. (He spends my imaginary Tuesday night staring hypnotically into Abby's eyes, like a hungry pet, while she tries to watch TV. Sounds dreamy, doesn't it?) Clearly, plenty of people find lunatic levels of co-dependency romantic, but I am not one of them, and I sure as hell can't sign off on a happily-ever-after featuring a guy who is always just one break-up away from full-blown cirrhosis of the liver.

Look, if you're a grown-up, and this is the kind of fantasy that floats your boat, go for it—but please don't buy it for your teenage daughter. While I can't imagine the college world is overrun with cage-fighting, hard-drinking, man-whoring geniuses, she can probably find a dude who covers at least two of those bases, and I seriously doubt that's what anyone is hoping for as a future son-in-law.
Posted by: Julianka


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