Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line
Just when we thought she was out, Veronica Mars teaches us all a lesson in…forgiveness?
March 27, 2014 | Gold | April 2014
The spoiler free review:
Two months following the events of the Veronica Mars movie–two months after Logan shipped off on duty, and two months after Keith was nearly killed in a car accident–Veronica is struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat. She is thankfully given the opportunity to solve a high-profile case for the Neptune Chamber of Commerce, and, with the help of Mac, Wallace, Keith, and some surprising but welcome figures from her past, Veronica does what she does best. It’s a page-turning story, for sure, if you’re looking for a mystery novel to keep you company on an airplane or a beach. But for long term fans of the series, this book is remarkable in its handling of some of Veronica’s longest-forgotten weaknesses. It brings closure to an arc that hadn’t even felt unfinished until this story resurrected it.
I recommend the audiobook. It’s narrated by Kristen Bell, and at just over 8 hours, it plays like a mini-arc of television.
The spoilery review:
“It wasn’t in her nature to forgive. But she was tired of fighting the war.”
And so Veronica, the emotionally stilted, unforgiving, reserved, fiercely professional woman that she is, makes peace with her mother after more than a decade of bitter silence.
The closing lines of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line have been ringing in my ears since Kristen Bell read them to me about an hour ago. Veronica, the character, has been a symbol of righteous anger and unflappability for me in my late, undergraduate years. Every time anyone says or does something awful in this world, all I have to do is think of Veronica and ask myself what she’d do. I’ve got an inner monologue that would make the TSA nervous. The other day, a couple of bros in hockey jerseys leered at me in a parking garage, and I mentally dared them to catcall me just so I could rip them a new one. “Is sexual harassment, like, an everyday thing for you, or is this a special occasion?” I practiced these lines, tweaking them and testing them out in my head as I walked through the garage past their truck, ready to pounce at the first sign of danger.
I was looking for that Veronica in Tan Line, and I found her, for sure. Her quips as just as quippy as they’ve ever been. But there was something different. In the book, Veronica is 28, and she’s running Mars Investigations in her father’s absence. There’s some honest floundering on her part, and it felt strange for me to see Veronica so not on her game for once. It felt like I was glimpsing Veronica as she must have been in the limbo between Lilly’s death and Shelly Pomroy’s party–off balance, frustrated, vulnerable.
But, as Veronica points out near the end of Chapter 20, vulnerability is not mutually exclusive with strength. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is the conversation between Wallace and Veronica that takes place after she’s discharged from the hospital. She had been inches away from the end of her life. Eduardo Gutierrez had a knife to her throat and had already drawn blood when Willie Murphy showed to break it up. Veronica had gone unarmed to the Gutierrez mansion wearing nothing but a pink, string bikini. She begged and pleaded for her life in character as Amber the co-ed, but the desperation in her pleas seemed much closer to Veronica’s actual thought process than it might have for a younger Veronica. For, here, Veronica had nobody rushing to her rescue. No Keith. No Logan. No Wallace or Weevil or Meg or Mac or Duncan Kane. Veronica had told no one where she was going, had no weapons, no hope of survival, and no vampire slaying skills to save her.
So, Wallace comes to collect Veronica from the hospital at some ungodly hour. She’s wearing nothing but a bikini and one of those blankets they hand out to women on procedural dramas. She’s shaking, partly from shock, partly from the cold. She’s got a knife wound on her neck a few inches wide. And Wallace doesn’t lecture her. He expresses concern, and he offers his undying support, but he doesn’t try to talk her down from her resolve. As the narrator astutely points out: “There weren’t many people in this world who would let you be vulnerable and still believe you were strong.” Wallace is one of them.
This is the mission statement of the novel, and it serves as almost a tagline for this chapter in Veronica’s larger mythology. Veronica is more vulnerable in Tan Line than she’s ever been. Even during the Hearst rape investigations, on the roof of the Neptune Grand with Beaver, and while running from Aaron Echolls, Veronica knew she had backup. Here, her interactions with Logan, Keith, and Weevil–the three men in Veronica’s life who she most frequently and constantly relied on for support with her cases–are distant and uncomfortable at best. But I don’t think this was a weakness in the novel.
Watching her flounder with the internet connection while trying (and failing desperately) to Skype with Logan was almost as painful for me as it must have been for Veronica. His wit and charisma were part of what made the original series so electric, and part of what made Veronica herself so Ready for Battle. Here, she literally can’t connect with him. It’s like she’s cut off from her supply of silver-tongued-spy juice. Keith bumbles his way through the novel, criticizing Veronica’s decision to throw her career away half the time and lamely fighting for his recovery for the rest. This, though, is also not a weakness in the novel, but something Veronica must actively deal with. Keith’s mental reflexes are only just recovering at the start of the story. He’s lost a lot in the accident, and his recovery is not glossed over. And then there’s Weevil, who is back on his bike after being shot “in self defense” by Celeste Kane. He’s able to offer Veronica a little information, but when he does, we can’t help but feel sad about it all. He, like Veronica, had managed to piece a real life together for himself after leaving Neptune High. But he, like Veronica, is now back at square one.
All Veronica really has to cling to are Wallace and Mac, who are somehow even more fiercely loyal and present for Veronica than they’ve ever been. She’s bolstered a little by Cliff McCormack, Dick Casablancas, and the very welcome Norris Clayton (remember the bomb threats?), but for the most part, she’s on her own. And Dan Lamb is a million times worse than his brother Don had been. To make matters worse, she’s got to deal with the sudden reappearance of her mother and the disappearance of her Lilly Kane-esque step-sister.
Despite the shakiness in Veronica’s game, her resolve is still solid steel. She might be afraid of the Milenios. She might seem powerless up against the corruption in the Balboa County Sheriff Department. She might be shaken by her mother’s involvement with the case. But she still does everything she can to track down the missing girls, and in the end, she does what she was hired to do.
I say all of this with the following caveat: Veronica did seem remarkably absent from the book. Early reviews of Tan Line seem to ring with the same chorus of Where’s the First Person Narrator? Aesthetically, this was a major shortcoming for the novel. Information is relayed to the readers in breathless paragraphs. The narrator throws around adverbs like they’re Tom Cruise in Cocktail. A book based on a series known for its first-person voice-over should surely employ the same tactic in prose, no? Listening to Bell narrate the book was rendered strange for the distance the text suggested. I don’t want to listen to Kristen Bell say “she” and have her mean Veronica. It just doesn’t sit well. I think third person could have worked, but Graham and Thomas failed to bring it as well as they would have needed to.
Still, the narrative distance from Veronica is at least effective in imparting the reader with Veronica’s own sense of distance from herself. This is, above all, a story about a woman who has finally reached the end of her rope, and it takes 300 pages and a lot of frustration for her to gather some more slack. Veronica’s return to Neptune is not a triumphant one, but it shouldn’t be. There are real consequences for her actions. There are real, adult, scary things happening to Veronica, and she alone is tasked with clean-up. This is not the case of the disappearing dogs. This is Buffy Season 6.
In the end, Veronica pulls through, but just barely. The same can be said of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.
Taylor is a Los Angeles-based idiot with a degree in English from the University of Chicago. She wants to write your favorite TV show.