Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Rosie Project

How pleased I was to discover that I had readers out there who, though invisible to me, have been following my blog for a while. One of these lovely people mentioned that she had trouble wallowing in the darkness with me. Yes, I tend to read about the worst in humanity. So, with this in mind, I picked up Australian writer Graeme Simsion's "The Rosie Project."

I seldom laugh out loud when I'm reading but this novel provided the exception to that rule. Professor Don Tillman is a mathematician, a geneticist, and a researcher. He is also a thirty-eight-year-old man with Asperger's Syndrome. I was going to write that he "suffers" from Asperger's but that would not actually be true. Don is perfectly content. It is his friends, Gene and Claudia, who suffer from Don's Asperger's.

Briefly, for those who are not familiar with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Don's disease manifests itself with what some might see as obsessive-compulsive behavior. Don keeps himself to a strict behavioral regimen that allows a set number of minutes or hours for certain tasks, for instance eating only a specific food (lobster) on a specific day (Tuesday). Adults with Asperger's, which varies in severity, may often be inept in social situations, speaking without filtering immediate thoughts and observations, avoiding eye contact or physical touch, and completely missing body language cues.

You can imagine how this might impair one's ability to form long-term relationships. Don has run the numbers. He knows that, mathematically, a married man will live a longer, happier life than an unmarried one. Now, how to find a wife? The Rosie Project, of course.

With the help of Gene and Claudia, Don creates a foolproof questionnaire designed to attract his perfect mate. There's only one problem. It is so restrictive that it will eliminate just about every living, breathing, flawed, lovely woman in the world. And then, along comes Rosie.

Rosie Jarman wants to know who her biological father is. Don Tillman has the smarts to help her in her quest. Because Rosie is everything Don doesn't want in a mate, a smoking, drinking, never-on-time, flibbertigibbet, he is relaxed and comfortable around her. As they delve into Rosie's "Father Project," Don allows her to upend his rigid schedule and, no surprise, he enjoys it.

Readers will see the writing on the wall long before Don does, but that's OK. In this delightful novel, it's the trip, not the result, that is the heart of the book. It's funny and heart-warming to watch Rosie skillfully drag Don out of his comfort zone while he, not completely oblivious to her charms, continues to monitor his questionnaire for suitable partners.

There are lessons to be learned here, about failing to appreciate what's right before us, about compromise, and the incomprehensibility of love, but they are lightly proffered. Mr. Simsion's first novel is deeply satisfying with nary a dark corner to be found. It's especially apropos reading for April which is Autism Awareness Month. Grab a copy, find a reading chair in the sun, and devour this book in one sitting.

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