Thursday, May 15, 2014

High School Is Officially Over, Guys (Thousand Dollar Tan Line)

I know I've been talking a lot about Veronica Mars for the past couple of weeks (since the movie came out), but there's a reason for that and it's probably exactly what you think: I really like Veronica Mars. It's not really rocket science.

The better question, I think, is why I like Veronica Mars so much. And it's not just because Queen V is a snarky and adorable teenager in precisely the way that I wanted to be at her age (but totally wasn't - I was way too out there strange to fit into Neptune High). It's not because she gets all the dreamy snarky boys, or because she's so dang clever. I'm quite secure in my own cleverness, thank you.

I love this little show, and the movie that came after it, and then the novel that came after that - which is the main thing we're discussing today, have no fear - because they're about women in a way I'd never really seen before I met this show. These are stories about women at all stages of their lives, from Veronica herself to her alcoholic mother whose life is a constant death spiral to her friend Mac and Mac's search for what her family means to her to Celeste Kane and her willingness to do anything for her family. From Carrie Bishop to Susan Knight to Gia Goodman to Meg Manning to Lilly Kane to Trina Echolls. All of them tell their stories on this show, and all of those stories are vastly different from each other.

And that, quite frankly, matters a lot.

So, with that in mind, let's talk about the new tie-in novel, Thousand Dollar Tan Line, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, that picks up exactly where the movie left off. For those of you who didn't see the movie or read my review, that means that it picks up with Veronica back in Neptune to stay, taking over for her dad at Mars Investigations, and getting ready to give the Neptune establishment a strong kick up the butt. [For the record, here's the ten-cent review of the novel: If you like Veronica Mars, buy it and read it. If you don't, don't. It's clearly for fans.]

It's a good place to start, and I appreciate that. But the novel brings us back down to earth. Veronica's been working at the office for a couple of weeks now, and her father's medical bills are still coming in while the work just plain old isn't. She's got a couple of options, but none of them are appealing, and she's going to have to do something soon or she's going to lose both the office and Mac, who quit her job at Kane Software to come work for Veronica.

Into her life then walks a tragedy / opportunity, as they so often are in Neptune. The head of Neptune's chamber of commerce comes to Veronica for help. It seems that a sprightly young co-ed has just disappeared from Neptune's annual spring break bacchanalia, and the chamber of commerce is willing to pay Veronica handsomely have her found. Because if she isn't found then Neptune isn't going to get to make much money off of spring breakers, and then the town will suffer, and of course, so will its citizens. Because it's not just the rich people who will see their profits plummeting, it's everyone.

Veronica is duly motivated to find the girl, but as the investigation wears on, and she has to go through all the usual bumps and bruises of a search - this part was very much like the show, which is a good thing to my mind, but did make it feel a bit old hat - the whole territory just keeps dragging Veronica through ancient history. She's invited to sketchy house parties, like the one where she was raped. She has to visit a college campus, and has memories of her one year at Hearst. Actually, she has to visit Stanford, where she finished her time, and has even more memories there.

And finally, just to really rub the whole, "You can't go home again, but you can certainly relive the past" theme, Veronica's own mother shows up. As the stepmother of a second missing girl. Talk about awkward. What's even better is that Lianne (her mom) totally hasn't told her new family about her old family. And Veronica is helping search for their daughter.

Fun times.

On top of all of this, Veronica is struggling to be emotionally transparent while in a long distance relationship with someone (Logan) whose internet access is a bit iffy and whose day to day concerns involve fighter pilots and war. No pressure. Oh, and her dad is really not happy that Veronica has blown up her big fancy lawyer job in favor of slumming it in Neptune. Not happy at all.

I could tell you more about the actual plot of the book here, but I feel like the plot is really the secondary thing. I mean, it's there, and it's fine, but it's not what we're here for. We're here for the juice. We're here for the characters and the relationships. Most specifically, we're here to see Veronica and her mother finally have it out about the lies and hard feelings and terribleness between them.

SPOILER: That doesn't happen. And it's great.

I felt like I understood what was going on as I read the book. So much of the story mirrors different parts of Veronica's life in Neptune that I felt like I could see where it was going. A place for closure of the past and a step towards a new beginning. Because it doesn't make sense to have Veronica in Neptune again without having her deal with her junk.

It turns out that I was only part right. Because this book is about dealing with your crap, but it's not about getting closure as a bridge explodes behind you and you walk away in slow motion. It's not about detonating the past so that you can move on and never think of it again.

This book is about growing up and moving on the mature, responsible way. It's about knowing that your mother is an alcoholic who stole tens of thousands of dollars from you, and giving her a hug. Telling her that you'll be there for her son, your half-brother, no matter what happens. It's about letting the past be the past, and finally figuring out how to live in the present.

I wasn't expecting that, but that by no means makes it a bad thing. And, for the record, I think that while the case in this book was only okay, the rest of it more than makes up for that. Because Veronica Mars is a story that we need. It's a story that can keep going for a long time, and it's a story that should. In order for that to happen, though, we had to let go of some things. That's fine.

The value in Veronica Mars isn't in these plot details, like I said above. It's in the characters, and the incredible weight of awesome female characters who are at such vastly different points in their lives. Veronica herself is just one part of it. She is, however, the central part. Without V, none of this fits together. 

Which is why it is incredibly important that Ms. Veronica Mars grow up. 

The movie was a lot about nostalgia - enjoying and celebrating what the show was all those (seven) years ago. But the book series promises new stories with new characters and new lives. If that's going to work, we have to learn to let go of some of the stuff we love from the old series. If we want Veronica Mars to live again, we're going to have to be flexible. We're going to have to let Veronica leave high school behind.

This is, of course, easier said than done. A huge amount of the personality of the show and the characters was tied up in that high school, which is a big part of why the show never really worked in college. Veronica at that point was a high school student, and it was super hard to consider her outside of that framework. But if we want this book series to work (and oh do we want that), and even moreso if we ever want another movie (please oh please), then we have to learn to reframe the character outside of her usual environs.

In other words, Veronica has to grow up, and so do we. The fate of the franchise depends on it.

The thing is, I don't always want to grow up. I was happy that the book took an unexpected twist in having Veronica actually forgive her mother and move past their baggage, but I still felt a bit bereft. I kind of wanted V to freak out and yell at her mom. I wanted the childish hurt, the yells, the emotional catharsis. That's not saying that they should have been there, by the way, that's just saying that for all I know it's better this way, I still wanted that.

And while I love that Keith finally came around in the end, getting Veronica a desk for the office and officially condoning her return to private eyeing, there was a small immature part of me that wanted a big blowup there too. I have all of these feelings, and I kept wanting Veronica to freak the crap out and yell at someone.

Because I was expecting her to act like a teenager the whole time, not the perfectly capable and reasonable twenty-eight year old woman she is.

Obviously I got over all of this, or I wouldn't be able to calmly tell you how much I liked the book. But I feel like it's worth noting that this is something I did indeed have to get over. I had to figure out how to age the character in my mind, and that was a lot harder than I anticipated. Not impossible, mind, but hard.

The good part, though, is that this is over now. Veronica has dealt with her baggage and has become a more reasonable and integrated person as a result. Can we please have the next book in the series now? Pretty please?

Also, can the next book have more Logan, please? Thanks.

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