The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project
Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project is a slightly quirky twist on a standard romantic comedy novel, with lots of fun moments, a few insights, and of course, a happy ending.

Don is a professor who clearly has Aspergers syndrome (ie, is on the autism spectrum) altho its unclear if he really admits that to himself. His attempt to find a romantic partner have been unsuccessful, so he devises as multi-page questionnaire for potential mates and dubs it “the Wife Project.”
Don’s friend and coworker Gene is a playboy trying to “sleep his way around the world.” Gene’s long-suffering wife Claudia is also Don’s friend and someone he turns to for advice and perspective.
Gene arranges for Don to meet a woman named Rosie, who is trying to find out the identity of her biological father. Her mother has died and she has an uneasy relationship with her step-father. Together, Don and Rosie concoct “the Rosie project”, elaborate schemes to collect DNA from potential patriarchs, including serving cocktails at a class reunion and inventing a fake research project. As they spend time together, they become friends- at least in the limited way Don’s life allows.
The highlight of the story is Don and Rosie’s trip to New York to collect DNA. Rosie gets Don to open his mind to many new things, including shopping for clothes and attending a baseball game. When the trip culminates in a failed one-night-stand, Rosie cuts off the relationship, fearing Don will only let her down. But it turns out thats what it takes for Don to realize he has fallen in love.
Commence “the Don Project”, as Don attempts to make himself over and prove  to Rosie that he can be a good romantic partner. He changes not only his style of dress but also gives up some of his strict schedule and even watches romantic comedies for tips.
When Don proposes to Rosie, it goes predictably (hilariouly) wrong. Can he convince her that he is willing to change his behavior for her, but he will always be the same man she fell in love with? Can Gene give up his philandering, and will Claudia give him another chance? Does Rosie find out who her biological father is and reconcile with her step-father? The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy so you can probably guess, but the book is still a fun and worthwhile read.

There is an increasing number of characters in books, tv and movies with Aspergers Syndrome or on the Autism spectrum. Probably the most popular is Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory (altho the show’s creators deny this label, the actor who plays Sheldon has admitted he plays him as a character with autism, and, well, its pretty obvious.) I am all in favor of this. I am hopeful for high-functioning adults on the spectrum who may find more understanding and acceptance because of increased awareness.
But I wonder if the popular portrayal makes it harder for families when someone’s Autism is more severe. If a parent says “my son has autism” someone could easily think that child is a brilliant OCD nerd- and maybe they are. Or maybe they are non-verbal and spend hours rocking in the corner or lashing out physically in a way that harms themselves or others. Maybe they function better than that but couldnt ever handle the stimulation (like Don can) of a baseball game.
With help from both Rosie and Claudia, Don buys new clothes. Plenty of people with Autism find this an overwhelming prospect, as they might not be able to stand certain texture, button or zippers, tags in clothing- or the feel of a three- piece suit like Don dons to impress Rosie.
So… bottom line I’m all for increased awareness of people on the autism spectrum. But I hope that awareness is accurate. Autism is a very real difference in how the brain functions, and while  many behaviors can be learned, its not a quick self-improvement project.

You might like: House Rules Jodi Piccoult. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime Mark Haddon. The Journal of Best Practices David Finch.

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