THE ROSIE PROJECT (2014)
Simon & Schuster, 305 pages. ISBN: 978-1476729091
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Imagine someone who's as handsome as Gregory Peck, as logical as Star Trek's Mr. Data, as numbers-driven as Raymond Babbitt (Rain Man), as practical as Thomas Gradgrind (Hard Times), as quirky as Ignatius Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces), and as prone to Asperger's meltdowns as Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime). Do this and you're still a buck and some change short of Don Tillman, the protagonist of Graeme Simsion's runaway best seller The Rosie Project. This book has wowed reviewers around the globe and was recently optioned to Sony Pictures. Believe the hype for a change—The Rosie Project is both a heart-warming and a guffaw-out-loud kind of book.
It's been said that academia is a place where possession of a major character disorder is not necessarily a disqualifying characteristic for job candidates. That's certainly true for Don Tillman, a University of Melbourne genetics professor. He's a brilliant researcher, but a person with the social graces of a schoolboy. Don is seldom in trouble, though, because he is a stickler for rules, routine, and procedure. Boy, is he ever! He eats the same meals each week because it's more efficient to do so and he schedules everything from his martial arts exercises to lab research time down to the second. Don never sees his routines as, well, routine; they are simply pragmatic ways of maximizing his time. Ask Don how long he has owned a shirt and he can tell you down to the day. It's just one of many ways in which he is blissfully unaware of himself. Nor does he think it's odd that he has but two friends, a womanizing colleague named Gene, and his psychologist wife, Claudia who doubles at Don's informal therapist. Don doesn't realize Claudia is also analyzing him, but no matter; he also doesn't realize that his guest lecture on Asperger's was better received by those who suffer from the syndrome than those who don't because he was speaking to his own tribe in the first instance.
About the only thing that troubles Don is that he's single, and that's an issue he approaches as he would any research conundrum. I defy you to read the chapters on designing a questionnaire for what Don dubs "the Wife Project" without snorting aloud. Or to remain stoic when he rejects one candidate as totally unsuitable because of a dispute over apricot ice cream! In an effort to get Don to loosen up a bit, his horn-dog friend Don tries to fix him up with Rosie Jaman in the sexist belief that getting Don laid will help him relax more around women. But Rosie flunks just about every category on Don's list–she's a smoker, vegetarian, slob, and non-exercising bon vivant. (She's also Goth gorgeous and whip smart.) Don doesn't see Rosie as a mate, but he is intrigued by her desire to discover her biological father. What better challenge for a geneticist than the "Rosie Project," a quest that will take the two of them across Australia, to New York City, and to some personal places neither of them anticipated?
This book is a charmer from start to finish–a wondrous balance between riotous humor, gasping embarrassment, and sweetness. You will snicker and laugh, but you will also find yourself yelling at the characters to see what's in front of their faces. Both Don and Rosie are unforgettable. The latter, in fact, might be the most seductively inappropriate mate since Alvy Singer fell hard for Annie Hall.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that you should read this book before the film comes out as there are nuances, exchanges, and internal thought processes within the text that I doubt will be as effective on the screen. Simsion has written a follow-up titled The Rosie Effect, which is set for North American release very shortly. I may delay reading that one–partly because of my distrust of sequels, but also because I'm still savoring act one. Rob Weir