Hello, my lovelies! Ya girl Nikkie is back with some not-so-sweet bookish babbling today. That’s right, friends. Today, I bring to you the ever-elusive NEGATIVE review of a book.
Try to compose yourselves. I know that I’m typically an easy person to please, so you’ve probably retired to your fainting couches now, processing this news. But the truth of the matter is that even with my open-minded, “Well, they tried their hardest!” demeanor, I come across something that I consider just straight-up garbage. See: my review of Gilmore Girls. And that extends to books.
The book in question? Things I Can’t Explain by Michael Kriegman. This book, sweeties, is written by the creator of the ‘90s staple/launcher of Melissa Joan Hart’s career Clarissa Explains It All. It is a look at Clarissa in her twenties. And
I know what you’re thinking. I’m just being hyper critical because I don’t want my childhood to be tarnished. But, I was actively excited to read this book! I was so ready to see what kind of cool shit Clarissa was up to and whether her wacky fashion sense was going strong (it is, but it’s still in the “bad things” column). So, imagine my utter and complete horror when I start reading this book and find that it is GOD AWFUL.
Let’s dig in. (And as you should’ve assumed: spoiler alert)
I think two of the first points are simple because they’re about 1) talent and 2) aesthetic.
To the first point: Michael Kriegman is kind of just . . . not a good writer. I feel comfortable saying this because I read A LOT. I know from good and I know from bad. This is bad. It’s not outright terrible or even objectively offensive as a reader/writer . . . but it certainly makes me question how he was able to convince someone to publish him. I have a glaring example of this, but I’ll put it in context later on in this post!
The second point deals with the graphics that are sprinkled throughout the book. Anyone who watched Clarissa will recall the liberal use of fourth wall–breaking graphics that illustrated a point the titular character making. This tactic works perfectly for a TV show, which is a much more visual medium than a book (because, you know, you don’t necessarily need your eyes to read a book). In a physical book (which can’t utilize the eye-catching squiggle motion of the on-TV graphics or even color, apparently), this doesn’t hold up.
There were a few times when a graphic was used in text, meaning that it appeared directly after what would serve as introductory text. But other times, they were just floating off to the side, so you’d have to decide when to stop reading in order to ingest the graphics’ information. Talk about cumbersome! After the first few times, it’s just frustrating. I appreciate the attempt to appease our nostalgia for the show, but come on! There were other avenues.
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Now for the content.
There were a few things that rang true to me. The fact that Clarissa’s parents were separated (not divorced) seemed about right to me. The twist was that it came from Janet becoming rich af. She apparently invents an insanely strong superglue that has tofu as its base, so she’s got mad money from that. Meanwhile, Marshall hasn’t had an architect gig since the Great Recession of 2008. No one had the funds for wacky building–building (lol), so his clientele dried up. That isn’t too shocking; I was surprised by how successful he apparently was when watching the show. But anyway, the fact that he got salty about not be able to contribute, and Janet kind of ignoring that saltiness, makes absolute sense.
What also makes sense is the fact that Ferguson is in jail for shady financial business. It’s not actually his own shadiness, as it turns out that the company he worked for was actually a front for a subsect of the Russian mob. It remains to be seen whether he knew about this, which does make him a bit more complicit, but regardless. He wasn’t dealing under the table or insider trading or anything. But there was still shady money business and he’s still in jail for it, and I believe this is on target with his character.
One content aspect that borders offensive is how Clarissa is a newspaper journalist (well, unemployed but whatever). I can believe this about her because she always wanted to be a journalist. The rub, however, is that she wanted to be a BROADCAST journalist. I’m pretty sure she vocalized this desire in the very first episode! The fact that she rarely writes, instead using graphics to bolster what her mouth is saying, points to how she would much rather talk to an audience with her actual face. So her working in print as an adult is a little odd. And also kind of stereotypical; I can’t count how many times authors bestow the title of journalist or copywriter or editor on their young (or youngish) lady character.
What really starts to frustrate me about her profession is how Clarissa rails against the shift to digital journalism. She is incensed by the idea of working for newspapers, essentially referring to it as millennial nonsense. Isn’t she a millennial?!
Let’s say she’s not. Let’s say that the year the show premiered (1991) is the same year it takes place in. She was around 14 at the time, putting her birth year as 1977 and making her part of Generation X. She’s still much closer to the millennial generation (and therefore the millennial mindset).
The fact that she turns her nose up at web work—only deigning to apply for that kind of job when she’s desperate and behind on rent—just seems entirely out of character. The point of her on-screen character is that she felt above and/or ahead of trends. You’d think she would jump at the change to be part of the big shift to digital journalism, which often has a lot more freedom.
Sidebar: the timeline of the book is extremely unclear. I have no idea what the year is in the book. Coupled with having no clear idea of when she was born, this is hard to articulate.
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But okay. Let’s pretend all of that makes sense.
For the love of God, someone explain to me why she has an issue with people putting soy or almond milk into their coffee. I get being a coffee snob, and I believe she would develop that New York affectation of pretending like their veins hold java instead of blood. (Everyone moves to NYC and thinks they have to do the “typical New Yorker” things to fit in.) But acting like people WHO LIKELY HAVE ISSUES WITH DAIRY are disgusting for their use of soy/almond milk is extremely out of character. I know there are people who believe coffee should only be consumed black—MAAAYBE with sugar—and therefore think everyone who puts any kind of diluting liquid is disparaging the sacrament of coffee. But then just say that, Clarissa! Don’t explicitly point out soy/almond milk as the most horrendous offenders. Once again, not everyone can consume dairy! Do you want people to have gastric distress?!
Then, there’s the upsetting development around her interest in fashion. As I said, one of her defining characteristics in the show is how she loves clothes and likes to mix and match to create her own unique fashion sense. The show’s Wikipedia page says that Clarissa is BEST KNOWN for her interest in fashion. So, of course that would carry over into adulthood.
H O W E V E R
Suddenly she cares about big-name designers and labels……..???? Other than probably caring that her boots be authentic Doc Martens, it is SHOCKING that she gives a shit about anything else she wears. Clarissa as we knew her just screams “thrift store shopper.” She would lust after the perfect vintage find and go by her own assessment of quality—meaning, does this feel like it’ll fall apart after one washing it? Because Clarissa sure as shit wouldn’t want to deal with a dry cleaner! And, in fact, I’m positive there’s a scene where she’s at a laundromat. So to suggest that she actively wants clothes that she can’t throw into a washing machine is insane to me. To even have a scene where she goes to a deep-discount, thrift-ish store was just insulting because then she brags about how she got a dress by a fancy designer for only $70-something. GTFO with that.
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Something that is slightly less egregious, but still frustrating, is the odd way that she talks about her friend group. I’m going to chalk this up to Kriegman not actually knowing how to write women than an issue with ignoring how Clarissa is as a person.
Clarissa mentions how one of the few girls we saw her hang out with as a kid (notable: not the black one) has this tendency to speak in acronyms and abbreviations. She talks about how it’s kind of annoying, and MORE THAN ONCE she says that she wishes she had a dictionary to help her decipher what her friend is saying. The fact that she uses almost the exact phrase several times (and by she, I mean Kriegman) is not great.
Plus, considering how long Clarissa has been friends with this girl, there’s no way she’s thinking about this multiple times in the span of a few weeks. Good friends don’t judge each other for their weird quirks/habits; as that episode of How I Met Your Mother showcases, it may bother you for a while but you ultimately get over it because your love for your friend overpowers it.
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Probably the most egregious thing (though not the last thing I’ll talk about) is how Clarissa IS NOT INTERESTED IN VIDEO GAMES.
The girl who actively created her own games on the computer to help her decompress/process things going on in her life ISN’T interested in any sort of virtual game these days? Kriegman seriously thinks I’m going to believe that she’s never touched Angry Birds? That she’s never even seen Minecraft? That she doesn’t own at least ONE (likely a classic) console system? That is bullshit, and he knows it.
I can feel this in my bones: He was sitting there, writing this chapter, and he thought, “Well, women in their twenties don’t like video games at all. If I retain that trait, they won’t connect with Clarissa anymore and won’t want to read the book.” My dude . . . that is fucking stupid and also fucking sexist.
Her love of video games is in the top five things I recall when I think about the show. It is a part of her character and essence. And if I know anything about computer nerds, they don’t just drop that trait when they become an adult. It is branded into their souls. I’m not saying she needed to become a coder, but to say she doesn’t like games at all anymore is spitting in the face of her childhood. And mine.
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Finally . . . there’s the story of Clarissa and Sam. Yes, Sam “appears” in the book. It’s all in flashbacks, but his presence in her adult life is there.
Let’s just address the elephant in your mind: yes, Kriegman has Sam and Clarissa hook up. This in itself isn’t the worst thing to ever happen. I’m sure he was trying to appease all the shippers out there. I’m not one, but I can understand wanting to—even though I really, really, truly hate the perpetuation that men and women can’t be friends without someone wanting to fuck.
But, there are two things that bother me about this whole thing.
The first is how they get together. Part one: Clarissa and Sam meet for coffee. He’s asking if she’s going to their high school reunion. Throughout the conversation, Clarissa brings up how Sam touches her hand or knee or something the same way he used to . . . except it’s not the same because there’s something different underneath it. Which . . . ugh. Come on. It is NOT that immediate. Part two: While attending the reunion, Sam’s ex-girlfriend is all over him, and Sam is like “Eww no. Clarissa, let’s get out of here.” He grabs her hand, and Clarissa immediately knows that there’s something intimate in this gesture. Part three: They have sex. Let me show you how that plays out:
Did you throw up in your mouth? Because I almost did.
That is horrendous. Not the fact that they have sex, of course. But the description is the worst thing I’ve ever read. Has Kriegman ever had sex with a woman? Has he ever asked one what they’re thinking about and experiencing during? It seems like no. It reads like he has no goddamn clue what’s going on with a woman.
Not only that, but he decides that this is Sam’s first time having sex. And Clarissa proceeds to judge him for that. This is insane to me! They’re best friends. So she likely would’ve known already that was a virgin, and even if she didn’t, I reiterate that they are BEST FRIENDS. Why is she getting on his case about it?!
Part four: They spend a summer together in romantic bliss, bopping around Europe while Sam has this great marine biology opportunity. They fall deeply in love and, here’s the kicker, decide that they’re going to elope when they get back to America. WOW. That went from 0 to 60 real quick.
Part five: Clarissa goes back to America to get their lives ready.
Part six: Sam never comes back.
I’m sorry. What?! When in his entire life has Sam ever been flaky and/or prone to dropping off the grid? I can see him not wanting to be on social media (which I don’t think he is), but it’s just crazy to me that he would bail on Clarissa and not even send one damn text to say “Sorry” or something. Mind boggling!
THEN. At the end of the book, Sam sends Clarissa an extremely long letter . . . And she doesn’t open it, opting instead of suck face with the main love interest of this book.
Again. I’m not saying that I thought Clarissa and Sam should be together forever. But, can the closure be a bit more concrete? I feel like just ignoring something is not the same as having closure. To imply that this new guy is more important than Sam, someone Clarissa has known for her entire life, is RIDICULOUS. It implies that she thinks the new guy (Nick) will be in her life longer than Sam. And I don’t think that’s true at all. They were best friends. They should be able to remain at least good friends in the face of their failed relationship. Not acknowledging the weight of Sam’s presence in her life is fucked up, to me.
SO! There you have it. Nikkie Explains It All Regarding How Bad the Clarissa Explains It All Book Was. Considering it was written by the show creator, I’m sure he believes it is canon. I choose to believe otherwise. Much like Harry Potterheads and The Cursed Child, I’m just going to pretend this didn’t happen.
Normally, I would never tell you beautiful people to avoid something simply because I disliked it. I’m not your supervisor! But, seriously . . . if you value your 90s childhood, DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THIS BOOK. This way lies madness. Do yourself a favor and just come up with your own fanfiction.
May your nostalgia stay pure and untouched,