The Rosie Project was chosen as this month’s Smart Bitches’ book club pick and I tried to wait until the chat date, which still has not been announced, but I just couldn’t do it. I loved this book. It was as if The Big Bang Theory put Sheldon with Penny, but better because Rosie is closer to Don’s intellectual level than Penny is to Sheldon (or Leonard for that matter).
Rosie follows Professor Don Tillman, a geneticist, who most certainly has some form of Asperger’s Disorder, in his quest to find the perfect wife. When the book opens, Don explains that he never believed that he would find anyone suitable to be his wife/life partner and that he had been fine with that until a friend, one of the four that he had (although some of his friends *coughcough Claudia and Daphne coughcough* definitely cared more about him than others *coughcough Gene *coughcough*) suggested that he would make a wonderful husband. This is when he develops The Wife Project, a questionnaire, which in reality is very similar to those used on Match.com and all those other dating sites, because he believes that questions like: “Do you eat kidneys?” will help him find the perfect mate. (The answer to the kidney question is “Occasionally” because that indicates that someone is willing to eat a little bit of everything. I’m sorry, but if something is used to filter out urine, I don’t want to eat it. Maybe that’s just me.) My inner geek loved all the “Methods” section buzzwords that were used in the development of the questionnaire–words like Cross Validation and Type I and II Errors. Took me right back to my Graduate Research Methods Class and that awful paper we had to write about biases in drug laws. *shudders* That whole experience still gives me nightmares–don’t ever work on a group project if you don’t have to: social loafing abounds. What really surprised me about The Wife Project questionnaire is how many women actually filled it out. It seemed rather desperate, but then I’ve done Match.com, E-Harmony, Plenty of Fish, and OKCupid, so I guess it isn’t that desperate.
Anyway, Don quickly realizes that his method of finding a wife isn’t working because he is too strict with what answers he’ll accept, so he makes a few changes, but deep down he still believes in the efficacy of the project. Then, in walks Rosie. She is everything that he doesn’t want in a wife. She smokes and drinks, she’s a vegetarian, and she’s a barmaid, which in his mind meant that she wasn’t smart. However, he promised Gene that he would at least go out with any woman he sends to him (Gene took over the project) and since he believed that Gene sent Rosie to him he went out. This is the first time you really get to see just how “different” Don is. When meeting Rosie for dinner at an expensive restaurant, Don misunderstands the jacket requirement at the restaurant and ends up in a physical altercation with a bouncer. Of course this leads to a very charming first date, which includes the creation of a new time zone: Rosie Time.
It is clear very early on (even before the jacket incident) that he is intrigued by Rosie and wants to get to know her, but Don doesn’t see his actions for what they are, even when he is unwilling to let her go. He thinks that it is his scientist’s curiosity that keeps him involved in “The Father Project,” which is Rosie’s mission to find her biological father. Instead of suggesting Rosie speak to each potential father and asking for a DNA sample, Don and Rosie set out to stealthily obtain samples from each one man and then test them at the University Genetics Lab, despite the fact that this could cause Don to lose his job.
I really did love this book, but I had a few problems with it. I felt as if Gene was taking advantage Don throughout the narrative. Let’s face it, Gene was not a good guy. He was a serial cheater, covering his infidelity with the idea that he had an Open Marriage, but how open could it be when he was the only one having outside affairs? Claudia loved Gene despite his huge flaws, but it didn’t seem to me like Gene loved her enough not to sleep with other women. Then there is the whole “Wife Project” thing. Gene decides that Don isn’t going about things right and puts himself in charge of setting him up with several women who sent the questionnaire. However, he never really does this. Instead, he uses it to find women for himself. Don notices more than once that the women Gene is out with are ones that he either met at dating functions or whose picture he had with their questionnaires.
The sad thing is that this is something that could happen to someone along the Autism Spectrum because they tend to be very trusting of others. That’s the part of Autism that truly scares me, as someone with more than one autistic relative. I constantly fear that people will take advantage of their trust and hurt them. The scariest part is that there is very little I can do to protect them from people like this.
The biggest problem I had with The Rosie Project was the idea that Don could change as quickly as he does. At one point, he realizes that he wants Rosie as his life partner, which is what he meant by wife, and decides that the only way he is going to get her to love him is for him to change some of the very things that she already loved about him and that made him who he is. That isn’t to say that some of these changes weren’t necessary and weren’t in his best interest. My problem is that he changes simply because he wants to and he doesn’t even have to really think about the changes. One morning, he wakes up and decides that his meal system is a little annal and he gets rid of it completely, going to the store to buy whatever is good that day. This just wouldn’t happen. Not with someone whose routine was so ingrained in him the way it was with Don. This is something it would take years to change even with appropriate therapy, something that he is not receiving from Claudia despite the fact that she is a licensed psychologist. In the end, it was more like he had chosen to be different his entire life than that he was “born that way,” which is exactly what he was. Don was born with Asperger’s and his social awkwardness was as much a part of him as the color of his eyes.
Finally, I also had an issue with Rosie, who I did not believe was ready to be someone’s wife; she doesn’t really even know who she is. Her entire life has revolved around the fact that she didn’t know who her biological father was. Even Don can see that her decisions were based around her father problem (for instance at one point, she mentions that she didn’t go into medicine because she didn’t want the man who raised her to think that she was choosing her biological father, who was a doctor, over him).
I did, however, really like this book. Don is a very relatable character and it was nice reading a character that wasn’t the literary standard.