I can’t remember another reading experience during which I was hyper-conscious of the fact that I was reading what would ultimately become a guilty pleasure. Rest assured, I feel thoroughly guilty after finishing Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, in no small part due to my knowledge that this is not a good book. Beautiful Disaster suffers from pacing problems and a meandering plot that is bulked up only slightly by various nonromantic threads towards the latter parts of the story. Yet it’s the relationship that really stands out as the book’s biggest problem, for the title is a perfect description of the whirlwind chaos that is Abby and Travis’s courtship.
I’ve been intrigued by this title for over a year now, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to get my hands on a copy. (Formerly available only as a self-published title, Beautiful Disaster was picked up by a big publisher and will be released in print next month). I’ve combed the depths of the young adult contemporary market, certain new releases excluded, yet on nearly every new adult romance list I’ve come across, this book seemed to be at the top. When I saw it available on NetGalley last week, I snatched it up, yet having read numerous reviews and spoilers over the past few months, I knew I was in for a potentially rough ride.
I’m in the camp of readers who believe that Twilightand books cast from a similar
mold depict a completely unhealthy, unstable, and frankly terrifying relationship dynamic. Some readers might find appeal in a hero who insists on making all of his girlfriend’s decisions for her, cannot support any sign that she might exhibit agency of her own, and breaks down at the thought of her centering her universe on something other than him. I, on the other hand, am disturbed by these authors’ seeming belief that co-dependency and control equal romance. Still, that didn’t stop me from reading all four of Meyer’s books when they came out, nor many other books in which the male lead’s alpha-demeanor is a mere proxy for abusive stalker behavior.
That being said, it seems fitting that my perception of Beautiful Disaster made me liken it to a Fifty Shades of Gray for the twenty-something set. Granted, I’ve not read the ubiquitious Twi-fic-turned-middle-aged-porn piece, but I’ve had enough discussions with friends who have been ensnared by Fifty Shades‘ apparently undeniable appeal that the comparisons surfaced while I read. Beautiful Disaster, while by no means innocent, doesn’t have the same level of explicit content that Fifty Shades of Gray is famous for introducing to housewives everywhere, yet the explosive, volatile relationship that forms between Abby and Travis will likely appeal to fans of the aforementioned work.
Basing my rating on pure entertainment alone, Beautiful Disaster would be a five-cup book. I can’t deny that, as sick and twisted as I knew this relationship was, as damaged a character as Travis persists in being and as typically bland as Abby usually is, I found their story compulsively readable. I knew that they were not only terrible together, but quite frankly were awful examples of decision-makers in their individual capacities. That didn’t stop me from wanting them to get their happily-ever-after. Honestly, though Travis is by far the more flawed of the two, I found him more sympathetic; I wanted this relationship to work for his sake, regardless of the warning signs that seemed to be flaring with each new chapter. Though he is a prime example of someone you wouldn’t want to become involved with, he is also at turns one of the sweetest (nearly unbelievably so) characters I’ve read of late. This dichotomy is in itself disturbing, as it seems to represent the dual nature that keeps so many women in bad relationships despite their better judgment. Viewed solely through the lens of the lessons that Beautiful Disaster seemily teaches, this should be a one-star read. However, when divorced from the real-life ramifications of these sort of relationship dynamics, I can’t deny that I enjoyed myself while reading. And so, my final verdict for Beautiful Disaster is three cups. Read at your own risk, and beware that this is far from a good book. However, for pure escapism, it’s one of the better works I’ve come across lately, and I know I will be returning to it again in the future. Whether I hold my head in shame as I read it is to be determined.