Hello, old friends. Remember me? Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter one way or the other if you do or not. For the purposes of today’s post, all you need to remember is Clarissa Darling, last seen Explaining It All on Nickelodeon in the nineties. Because show creator Mitchell Kriegman wrote a New Adult novel following her post-college adventures, called Things I Cant Explain. Spoilers to follow…
Let’s get this out of the way first: I actually don’t remember all that much about Clarissa Explains It All. This is what I recall: a jazzy theme song (jazzy, for those of you that don’t know, is my catch-all word for things that are upbeat, and has nothing to do with actual jazz whatsoever) and onscreen graphics to illustrate thoughts and points. Tofu-obsessed mother Janet, weird architect father Marshall (in both that he himself is weird and his architecture is very weird), creepy and bright-but-in-an-evil-way brother Ferguson, best friend Sam who climbs in the window with a ladder. Window ladders were a big thing back then. And Clarissa herself had journalistic aspirations and a fashionista soul.
So with that bit of background in mind, let’s cut to the present day, where Things I Can’t Explain is set. Janet is mega-rich because she made tofu into glue and sold it to the government, but Marshall has been unemployed due to investors not really wanting their ping-pong ball headquarters literally made out of ping-pong balls. The parents Darling are separated and in counseling. Sam is a marine biologist and MIA, diving somewhere in an unknown location. Ferguson is in prison for a large insider trading scandal, and may or may not be wanted by the Russian mafia. And Clarissa got an internship out of high school with the Daily Post in New York City, but then that newspaper went under, her mentor died of heart failure, she broke up with her boyfriend and he became a stalker, and now she’s unemployed and addicted to coffee.
(This novel, like all novels about New York, prides itself on its New York Details, including train stops and street corners. Novels about New York want you to know exactly where in New York you are at all times, and how you got there, be it by public transit or by foot.) (Similarly, this novel, like all novels about anyone between the ages of twenty and forty, features a coffee obsession, in the form of someone constantly telling you how much coffee they drink. Coffee is very hip.)
There are Shenanigans afoot. Clarissa, after an unsatisfying job interview, decides to go to the coffee cart in the lobby of her former office to flirt with the Cute Coffee Guy (CCG) that works there. In the midst of flirting, her parents spontaneously show up to get a tour of the office that was closed down awhile ago, and maybe get lunch with Clarissa and her boyfriend Norm. Except Clarissa doesn’t have a job, there is no office, and she and Norm broke up awhile ago because he is something of a sad sack. Cute Coffee Guy, a.k.a. Nick, to the rescue, who deters the Darlings from going upstairs because he is the boyfriend Clarissa told them about. He’s pretty decent on the fly. Clarissa is not. And this entire premise, while essentially setting up the novel, hinges entirely on the fact that Marshall and Janet would never hear otherwise that a large newspaper had gone out of business? A newspaper their daughter worked at. If I may jump ahead, further down this plotline, Clarissa gets invited to the wedding of a mean girl high school classmate, Genelle, who is only doing so to humiliate Clarissa because she heard through the grapevine that Clarissa was having boy troubles. The grapevine is her mother talking to Clarissa’s mother. If something as everyday as your boyfriend cheating on you is making the news all the way back to Ohio, it’s inconceivable that Clarissa’s newspaper shutting down never made it out that far, given that it’s in-universe a big deal name paper. Apparently the Darlings do not own a computer. You cannot make the choice to set your book in the present day and still have all of your characters behave (technologically, at least) like it’s still the nineties.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The hijinx play out as follows: this fake dinner date happens, then Clarissa and Nick follow it up with an almost-date of their own, which is cut short by Nick admitting he has a girlfriend, and having to go and pick her up at the airport (where the Darlings see him kissing said girlfriend, but weirdly never say anything to Nick OR Clarissa). So that fizzles out quickly, she wisely leaves him behind, and then we’re left with the drama of Clarissa applying for a job at an upcoming financial blog, Nuzegeek, where the second-in-command (named Dartmoor) hates her. Clarissa visits Ferguson in prison to learn finance-speak and gets treated to that as well as a round of white-people-gangsta-speak* as well. Ferguson is in high-security prison for a white collar crime because the judge is trying to protect him from the Russian mafia. I don’t even know.
*(There is, in general, a lot of excessively slangy dialect going on, particularly when it comes to Clarissa’s high school friend-cum-model Jody, who speaks exclusively in abbreviations even Clarissa admits she doesn’t understand. The whole thing is very bizarre and reeks of an old guy trying to be hip and imitate something he heard in a coffee shop or read on Tumblr. No one abbreviates CVS as VS.)
More shenanigans: Clarissa’s ex Norm stalks her to her work proposal and gives her an engagement proposal (she declines). Her arch-nemesis from high school has a wedding and invites Clarissa and her parents solely to embarrass Clarissa because she heard she was having relationship problems. So now Clarissa has to track down Nick again and talk him into being her date for the wedding because she never came clean to her parents about being single or unemployed. Nick, rather than finding this level of sitcom tomfoolery absurd and a warning sign that to move forward in any capacity with Clarissa will lead to a lifetime of unnecessary nonsense, decides to go along with this. He and his girlfriend are an on-again, off-again thing anyway, according to him and at least one other source. Clarissa, inspired by Nick’s improbable goodwill, decides to come clean to her folks at the wedding. EXCEPT, guess who shows up right as Nick and Clarissa have their big sweeping romantic kiss! That’s right, his ex- or not-ex girlfriend, who is drunk, on a motorcycle, destroys some property, and ultimately Nick walks off with her, leaving Clarissa bereaved in the middle of the dance floor. ALSO, Dartmoor-from-Nuzegeek, who hates Clarissa for no reason and doesn’t want her to get the job, is at this wedding, sees the whole thing, and decides to swoop in and mention to her parents that she’s unemployed, too. I cannot think of a more needlessly ass-y thing to do to someone you barely know, so good job, guy with stupid name.
There’s a lot of moping, and a montage of Clarissa going partying with her friends as though that’s a thing she can afford when she’s three months behind on rent and still has no job, but ultimately Clarissa hunts down Nick’s moto-girlfriend, who admits they aren’t dating and she just wanted to eff up Clarissa’s day, and eventually after that, Clarissa does get the Nuzegeek job and Nick. I mean, you saw that coming.
But what of Sam Anders, erstwhile window-climber? We get a fun bit of backstory into that, where Sam loses his virginity to Clarissa in the back of a truck at the one-year high school reunion, then they go off to Italy over summer break so he can intern with marine biologists or something. They’re in love, everything’s going great, but then he gets an extension on his internship so he does not return to New York when Clarissa has to go back to her internship, and then he just… never comes back. I think at this point it’s been years with minimal contact and zero explanation. By the end of the novel she gets a letter from him that she… doesn’t open. I think the message in this somewhere is “life changes and things are basically terrible after you’re eighteen because people change and also are useless.” Poor Sam never even appears either to be in the relationship other than in summary, or to explain himself in any capacity, so it rather goes nowhere. Is that the point? Is that the point of life?
Also, the government releases Ferguson from prison and he goes to Russia to be an undercover informant.
I can’t explain it, either.