The cutesy cover and title of The Rosie Project (HarperCollins, 2013) might keep you away from this novel. But if you give it a chance, you’ll likely find yourself hooked pretty quickly. I laughed for the first time on page 3 when the narrator, Don, says this:
“I would have been satisfied with our relationship…but Gene also invited me to dinner at his house and performed other friendship rituals, resulting in a social relationship.”
With a strong and unique voice, the character of Don is quickly established. He’s quirky, logical, and, usually, brutally honest. The comparisons to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are apt, yet Don is also his own unique character.
The novel opens with Don preparing to give a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome, stepping in at the last minute to cover for his aforementioned friend, Gene. Although the word Asperger’s is never applied to Don, the reader is obviously supposed to make their own connections, just as Gene and his wife, Claudia, hope Don will connect his own behaviour to his lecture topic. Don knows he’s different, a little socially awkward, has never had a second date. He manages his life down to the minute, including endearing details such as his Standardized Meal Plan. (Ever Tuesday, he eats lobster.)
Although Asperger’s diagnoses – and others on the Autism spectrum – are not uncommon today, Don, being in his late 30s, does not belong to a generation when his behaviours might have been diagnosed. Instead, he’s brilliant in many ways – including a delightful scenario where he becomes an expert bartender in the space of a few days – and uncomfortable in many others.
One of the many spots in Don’s life where things just don’t work is in his romantic relationships. Thinking to apply the logic and efficiency he brings to other aspects of his life, Don creates The Wife Project. A pages long questionnaire to narrow down wifely prospects and to maximize his interactions. Don doesn’t have time to waste on first dates with women who smoke or calculate their BMI incorrectly. Through The Wife Project (sort of), Don meets Rosie, who doesn’t fulfill his requirements at all and pushes his boundaries into uncomfortable areas. Yet Don finds himself inexplicably enjoying Rosie’s company and he helps her with her own project – finding out who her biological father is.
Don and Rosie are both the kind of characters who are wonderful to read about because they’re extremely likeable on paper but you probably wouldn’t care to spend much time with either one of them in real life. It’s not hard to see where the plot will end up and it’s not hard to be happy when it begins to head in the direction of a happy ending.
Where The Rosie Project falls short is perhaps in an oversimplification of Don’s actual problems. We are introduced to a character who structures his life so completely that he panics over minutes wasted with small talk. And yet we are to believe that his desire to be with Rosie can overcome what is likely a real neurodevelopmental disorder. It isn’t something that goes away, even when people want it to and try really hard.
Overall though, The Rosie Project offers a succinct and empathetic look into the mind of a man vastly different than the majority of the population. It isn’t an autism text and it shouldn’t be treated as one but it is a fun, breezy read that you won’t want to put down.You’ll find The Rosie Project worth your time.