He runs the underground. She’s made it her playground. Their time together--the stuff of pulp fiction. When a corrupt corporate conspiracy threatens to tear them apart, they blast back with their offbeat brand of crime and chaos.
This story is just one from the pulps. Film critic Roger Ebert once described them as ‘cheap, disposable entertainment that you could take to work with you, and roll up and stick in your back pocket.’ So do just that--and read it on the weekend.
Bon Week-end is a novel written in the tradition of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s neo-polar, existing now as what shall be known as the neo-serial. This is Nippoten’s second serial following the superhero epic Entirely Presenting You.
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Overall (4 stars):
What is “pulp fiction”? It’s a genre born from capitalism — lurid, action-heavy stories quickly pumped out and mass-published in magazines on cheap paper made of wood pulp. Though pulp fiction has been long replaced by other serialized mediums, it still remains something of its own. Bon Week-end is a new take on pulp fiction, brought to the digital platform for a modern audience. And though I have a few complaints, I believe Nippoten succeeds with this main goal, capturing the essence of pulp.
Style (4 stars):
Pulp fiction is all about style over substance, which this experimental narrative fully embraces. The narrative is structured like a film script and Nippoten favors short, clipped prose reminiscent of old crime novels. It’s chock full of references to obscure philosophy, crime novels, and cinema. French words and phrases are peppered throughout just for the aesthetic. It’s a lot going on and it sometimes distracts from the story. SPOILER: At the end, Amérique stands in for Nippoten, replying to the editor who vocalizes complaints the audience has already made and complaints the author anticipates they might. An interesting way to talk to the audience, but I don’t think the meta framing of it adds anything.
The author also frequently interjects philosophical interludes, the longest of which is an analysis of systemic violence in the movie, Manila (2009). Most of these are humorous quips coming from the mouth of a precocious child, but not always, and sometimes, especially in the case of the latter, they detract from the story.
Story (4 stars):
Bon Week-end takes place in an alternate timeline of the Entirely Presenting You universe. There will be familiar characters and settings but that’s about where it ends. Styx is the only young leader in the coalition of gangs, and the old men in charge have decided it’s time to take him down in the interest of profit. But if Styx is going down, he’s going to take them down with them. Most chapters have a section from the point of view of Styx and D, structured non-linearly where Styx’s sections take place on Saturday and D’s on Sunday. Without too many spoilers here, the story is frenetic, chaotic. But if you’ve read any of Nip’s works, it’s what you’d expect.
Grammar (5 stars):
No complaints here.
Character (4 stars):
Pulp fiction is fast-paced and all about the action. So when you don’t have a lot of words to work with, and you want to make sure you get all that sweet, sweet action — something’s got to go. In this case, it’s the character development. D remains just as much a mystery as she was at the beginning, Styx remains just as angry and violent, and the rest of the characters are either mysteries or two-dimensional. I would’ve really liked to see more done here, but it is fitting for the genre.
All that said, I recommend this. It’s a quirky, entertaining, albeit slightly depressing, read. And not much of a time commitment either. Read it over the weekend.
Minor spoilers below:
Bon Week-end is the 'Ready Player One' of film noir. If you have a wistful longing and appreciation for the Golden Age of melodrama, you'll probably like this story, but if you don't, you'll struggle to find your footing in a setting that fails to accomodate you.
At its heart Bon Week-end is pulp fiction, with its own femme fatale and hopeless antihero protagonists, empathic use of 1950s culture, and dark descriptions of inner city crime. At the same time the story avoids definition by being self-aware, often lampshading its nonlinear narrative with liberal leaning on the fourth wall and philosophical interludes, such as a full on critique of the 2009 film Manila. Bon Week-end's complex narrative is certainly not new to the noir genre, but it is executed well here: Allowing D to exist independently from Styx, if only for a short while, creates a better connection between the two protagonists that likely would not exist if the story was more linear.
But the question remains, how does a traditionally visual medium translate to the matter of fact reality of prose? The answer is muddy. Fast paced name drops of anything from cigarette brands to Golden Age actors create a referential air in the story, but often this is the only strand that establishes the world as existing in the 1950s. The prose, while stylistic in its own right and certainly functional, fails to establish a consistent identity when Styx is in not in play, and its anachronistic properties does little to argue against what I think is Bon Week-end's biggest shortcoming: Thinly emulating film noir rather than being noir itself.
Film noir has always put style over substance, but Bon Week-end's style is effective only to the extent that it can reference cultural idols to you. Much like Ready Player One and its overbearing abuse of 80s intellectual properties, Bon Week-end struggles to exist independently. It will tell you about classic Jazz standards and Golden Age actresses, but it won't show you the improvisational strength of modality or the eternal beauty of Dorothy Malone. The noir elements in this story often exist in much of the same way they do in a Wikipedia article: Matter of fact, analytical, but without the soul or the presence that defines the genre.
This issue comes to the extreme when the prose itself forgoes description of minor characters and name brands in favor of references, often leaving many beats to survive in a indescript void. If you don't know what Dorothy Malone looks like, the first google search you make will give you a better sense of her looks than Bon Week-end. For that reason Bon Week-end could be considered hypertext fiction, since you will undoubtably have to google certain lines just to understand the gratituous french and the many, many soft references that populate the narrative. At best, the references are superfluous. At worst, they actively detract from the story, but never do they prop up the noir that this story supposedly is. It would be too harsh to say that Bon Week-end is a masturbatory take on film noir rather than a loving and earnest spiritual successor, which is unfortunate because that is exactly what it is.
What about character? The noir genre has always been known for its immoral cast of gangsters, femme fatales, and undercover cops, and the same archetypes present there also exist in Bon Week-end. As the same time, this is where Bon Week-end straying from noir tropes creates a weird juxtoposition: Styx is not more of a character than the faceless mobmen he slays, but D's personality and childlike banter is so out of place for a narrative like this that the two protagonists may as well exist in two different stories. D is the dame in this story. The one the hero saves and ultimately the object of want in Styx's POV, but D is hardly likable. Her nihilistic personality and aimless presence do not make a capivating POV, and her weird tangents often break the mood of whatever scene she's in. What is weird however is that the narrative itself will insult D, breaking the fourth wall to explain D's brattiness as being nothing more than indicative for her age, rather than the PTSD of being kidnapped. I struggle to name a reason for why Styx cares so much for her, and if it wasn't for her knack at interrogation she would be a character without any positive quality.
This is not a bad story by any means, and the prose, when able, highlights the dark and moody qualities of film noir. Stx's rampage is written wonderfully, and the succint descriptions of restaurants, mobsters, Mexican standoffs, and halo-halos establish a unique story I haven't seen anywhere else. For being under 50k words, its brisk pace makes it an easy and enjoyable read. At the same time, I don't think it succeeds at its intended goal, and that is where the story suffers the most.
Read for the crowbar.