Clarissa Explains It All creator Mitchell Kriegman manages an admirable, but not completely satisfying, juggling act with romance, nostalgia, and realism with his novel, Things I Can’t Explain. Twenty-something Millennial Clarissa explains all her adulthood, but can’t explain why she’s mired in sitcom hi-jinks. She’s still a Darling, but not quite darling.
Clarence Explains It Some
90s kids remember (the 90s kids who watched too much TV) Clarissa Darling, a girl with maturity a little beyond her years and a distinct bohemian-ish fashion sense. She had the obligatory quirky family, but her best friend is Sam, a dude who entered her room via ladder to her window.
Also, as a guy with no sense of what’s haute couture or even a good deal at Old Navy, I’ll note Clarissa’s unique style on Clarissa Explains It All or the book. However, I can’t comment on the quality of her mix-match strategy.
I can imagine no executive at Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel would want this kind of show. After watching a late-season episode where Clarissa interns with Sam’s journalist dad, I ran through what these execs would think: nobody’s hyper! Where’s the slapstick? Get rid of the boy; have Clarissa get totes cray girl BFFs! Okay, Clarissa HAS female friends in this book, but they’re either annoying (“abbrevspeak?” shudders) or forgettable.
Suddenly, A Summary Appears
With that out of the way, here’s Clarissa’s predicament. An unemployed aspiring journalist, Clarissa tells her story of her struggles to find a job and a guy in New York City. Not only does she narrate, she provides helpful illustrations just like on the sitcom. She’s aged down from Melissa Joan Hart’s real age to 26. Her life’s timeline would have aligned with the Great Recession affecting her job prospects, but she already worked for years at a New York newspaper. I have no problem with this change and I also like Kriegman building a hustle-and-bustle atmosphere.
(An aside nitpick: Clarissa’s ex-hippie parents would either be senior citizens in the present time, or they would experience the full hippie experience at about 12. Their ages have no bearing on the plot, however.)
Anyway, Clarissa visits the nearly empty building where she used to work where she gets some coffee. She musters the courage to chat with a hunky dude she initially names “Cute Coffee Guy.” Just as Cute Coffee Guy and Cute Writer Girl are hitting it off, her parents make an unannounced visit. Clarissa reveals she hasn’t told the truth about her job status to her parents and decides to keep up the charade with “CCG” playing along.
After they all have a not-so-romantic dinner, Clarissa and “CCG” enjoy a not-so-romantic evening out; they could never be really “together” due to “CCG” already seeing someone.
Clarissa then focuses on getting a writing job at Nuzegeek. I’m tickled of the possibility 26-year-old Clarissa succeeding in the 2010s journalistic world of clickbait and hot takes by just writing great copy. Just as the Nuzegeek boss decides to give her a trial assignment, something that exposes her non-existant financial expertise, nutty (but hunky) Norm runs in and embarrasses Clarissa. Norm has never gotten over breaking up with Clarissa and stalks her every chance he gets. Fun guy, eh?
All the while, Clarissa takes the time to explain what happened with her once-BFF (now hunky archeologist) Sam. Yes, Sam and Clarissa hook up. Yes, they have a dream getaway but eventually lost touch with each other. Clarissa gets intimate with her childhood friend while leaving another girl who wanted him a sore loser.
Maybe She’s Worth It?
What was a slice-of-life, nostalgic catch-up with familiar characters becomes a romance novel where hilarity (in theory) ensues. Annoying people run in on Clarissa at just the wrong time, Clarissa’s character is questionable, and her love interests could easily be Abercrombie & Fitch models with slight quirks.
I wanted to really like Clarissa, but I felt queasy after reading this book since she seems to have major mental health issues. One issue may have been diagnosed herself towards the end of the story. She’s very eager to fib her way through her troubles than coming clean to people who care about her.
In TV Land, Clarissa’s family, Marshall, Janet, and Ferguson, is flawed but tolerable. In this book, they’re dysfunctional obstacles that Clarissa must overcome. Ferg, especially, is interesting at first, but his speech pattern he uses to adapt to his new surroundings becomes cringeworthy.
Will our heroine learn the difference between stocks and bonds and Birkenstocks? Will she ever get over Sam and happiness with a guy who’s serves coffee? The answers will not shock you!
Whether Kriegman can’t completely break Clarissa out of her sitcom origins or if it’s supposed to be a typical feature of romance novels, Clarissa’s cold treatment of an former schoolmate and romantic rival made me like Clarissa less. Clarissa acts more irrational and, well, bitchy.
Things I Can’t Explain isn’t a deep story with subversive twists. Anyone reading it might know what’s going to happen before they’re half-finished reading. I’m on the fence whether I’d want to read a sequel. Catching up with Clarissa is worthy of a quick read.
Rating: *** out of *****.