Sunday, October 11, 2015

What we're reading: The Rosie Project

In The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, Don Tillman, professor of genetics, is on a quest for love; but since Don has never been on a second date, this may be a longer, more difficult quest than one might anticipate. Although Don thinks of himself merely as a well organized, logical, and methodical person, his few friends realize that he is most likely somewhere fairly high on the Aspergers spectrum. His lifelong difficulty with navigating social rituals has reconciled him to doing without romance, but a chance comment by an acquaintance that he would make a "wonderful" husband (the sincerity of that comment may be in question) has convinced him to consider the statistical probability of there being someone for everyone. He therefore embarks upon "The Wife Project." He sets up specific criteria (and details them on a questionnaire) to find the perfect partner--intelligent, logical, punctual, not a smoker, a drinker, or a vegetarian!--and refines as he goes along from failed date to failed date.

In a comedy of errors, Rosie Jarman approaches him about a personal quest, while he believes she has been sent as a candidate for The Wife Project by his friend Gene. Rosie is a smoking, drinking, sustainable seafood-eating, somewhat profane barmaid with none of the qualities Don is seeking...and yet there is something beguiling about her determination and quick intelligence. Don puts his own project on the back burner to help her with "The Father Project," her desire to discover through DNA investigation which of a couple dozen men is her biological father. In the midst of their collaboration, Don realizes that this unlikely relationship doesn't look good on paper, but maybe it's something worth pursuing.

This was a charming story. The protagonist, Don, put me in mind of an adult version of the kid in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon. I could see him growing up to be Don--precise, literal, frustrating, yet engaging in his innocence and bewilderment about the social norms that escape him. Although you could see where this was going from the beginning, the telling of it was so enjoyable. Can you call a book Chick Lit when it's narrated by a man? I feel like that's where this belongs, but that's not a negative comment in the least--rather, it's a reflection of the quirky, offbeat mood that is engendered by viewing the world through Don's particular lens. The slightly tongue-in-cheek attitude and the outsider status of the main character put me in mind of another book I enjoyed, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.


Although after having finished this book I found it hard to imagine what needed to be said in a sequel, the author has indeed written one: The Rosie Effect. So if you like the first, there's somewhere else to go!

Burbank Public Library offers both books in audio- and e-book formats as well.


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