Review – Nepture Noir edited by Rob Thomas

Title: Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars

Editor: Rob Thomas

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Literary and pop culture analysis

Note: Review copy obtained from NetGalley.

Cover - Neptune Noir

Synopsis and Background

Before I can talk about the book, I have to talk about a TV show: Veronica Mars. Long story short, go watch it. Go watch it right now! I am not generally a TV person, but Veronica Mars is one of my absolute favourite stories. It’s a noir mystery series with a spunky teenage girl as the protagonist. It’s dark, morally challenging, and has a complex and imperfect female main character that drives the show forward. The show ran for three seasons, but was cancelled in 2007.

So why talk about a TV series that was cancelled several years back? In 2013, a massively successful Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund a new Veronica Mars movie, and that movie was released on March 14, 2014 (check your local theatres!). The movie takes place several years after the series when Veronica is a fully fledged adult coming back to Neptune to help out an old friend. I went to see it on opening night, and I can guarantee that fans are going to enjoy this new addition to the Veronica Mars canon!

But what about Nepture Noir? This book is a compilation of essays written about various literary and social aspects of the series with commentary from Rob Thomas, the creator of the series. The essay authors, fans of the series themselves, explore many different aspects of the show, including the symbolism that it uses, and discussions about why the show worked so well.

The Good

If you have not watched Veronica Mars, this book is not for you (yet). But for fans, it’s an interesting addition to the series that celebrates some of the best aspects of the show.

Some of the essays are quite unique, and I really quite enjoyed Chris McCubbin’s piece on why Veronica Mars has a surprisingly big conservative fanbase, and Lawrence Watt-Evans’s character analysis of the cars used in the show. I was also a big fan of the two essays from Joyce Millman and Amy Berner on the role of fathers in the show, particularly the focus on Keith Mars who is one amazing fictional dad. While there was nothing truly ground-breaking presented in this volume, the authors caught onto little details that add quite a bit to one’s experience of the series.

The Bad

Despite my enjoyment, there are some downsides to the book. For one, the pieces were all written before the third and final season came out, so there is a lot of speculating about future development that is no longer relevant as the show moved forward. But since I enjoyed seasons 1 and 2 quite a bit more than season 3, this didn’t bother me at all.

For people looking for more critical academic work on this show, Neptune Noir is more of a lighter, analytical look at the show. This isn’t a fault unless you come in looking for something deeper than you will get, so don’t expect scholarly quality and depth. Just enjoy a series of essays produced by a bunch of articulate fans of the series.

There was only one essay that I truly did not like in Neptune Noir, and that was Heather Havrilesky’s “The Importance of Not Being Earnest”. Before I explain my discomfort, I should give readers a spoiler warning for the show and a trigger warning for content involving sexual assault. One of the most controversial plot elements of Veronica Mars is that the main protagonist is a rape survivor. It’s an integral aspect of her backstory, and part of the reason that she is so driven to root out the evil in Neptune. In Havrilesky’s essay, she concentrates on talking about Veronica as a world-weary teen that has crossed into adulthood too soon, specifically in relation to her views on love. She applauds Veronica’s maturity in understanding that love isn’t this perfect state of being, and that the people you love can hurt you. She then goes on to talk about her first high school breakup. However, this comparison is pretty tasteless when one realises that Veronica’s issues with love arise out of the fact that her first love dumped her without telling her why (and she later finds out that it’s because they might be half-siblings), shortly thereafter, her best friend was brutally murdered, the entire town then turned on Veronica and her father for attempting to solve the crime (Veronica’s dad was the sheriff at the time), she was drugged and raped at a party when she tried to fit back in with her former group of friends, the new sheriff refused to believe her when she reported the assault, and her mother ran off when her father lost his job. In short, Veronica’s views on love have been affected by some severely violent and emotionally disturbing events that are not equal to an average high school breakup. To compare to the two diminishes the severity of the harms that Veronica suffered, so the essay, despite saying some interesting things, left me uncomfortable and frustrated.

Final Thoughts

If you like Veronica Mars, Neptune Noir is probably going to be a fun and thoughtful addition to the series as you wait for what Rob Thomas is going to produce next (and fans should know that the Veronica Mars movie continues in book form with the release of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line on March 25th!).