The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

{62082799-D96C-4CE1-9E8E-72DB51CB811E}Img400The Rosie Effect: A Novel

by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect is the sequel to last year’s bestseller, The Rosie Project, which I reviewed here.  In this installment, Don Tillman and Rosie are newlyweds.  As the novel opens, Rosie announces that she is pregnant.  Which totally throws Don for a loop because it wasn’t part of The Plan, at least not yet.  Apparently Rosie decided to throw caution to the wind and get pregnant without telling Don her intentions.  Probably not a great thing to do to someone who thrives on rigid structure – plus, Rosie is in the middle of writing her thesis, and frankly, the timing of a pregnancy just in the midst of that seems  … er, ill-conceived.  It was hard to even understand why Rosie would decide to get pregnant at that particular time; even though she’s disorganized and somewhat fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants, she’s utterly committed to her studies and her goal to become a doctor, and refuses to even consider deferring her studies.  But I guess a surprise pregnancy was the necessary vehicle to keep the Don and Rosie story going.

As he attempts to come to terms with Rosie’s pregnancy and impending fatherhood, to which he is convinced that he is more and more unsuited, Don’s life becomes borderline slapstick.  Meanwhile, Rosie is a cranky meany-pants, and their new marriage is crumbling, and fast.  Can Don turn things around?  Well, you can probably guess.

I had very mixed feelings about this book.  Don is likeable, though Rosie, not so much.  The comedy was a little much – it made the story hard to buy into.  And the discomfort I felt with The Rosie Project with regard to how autism and Asperger’s are handled, and how that reflects on society’s views on disability, was felt even more keenly.  In this story, there is a definite defensiveness about any suggestion of Don being autistic, and that felt very ableist.

It’s a readable story, and if you’re dying to know what happened after the wedding, go ahead and read this.  I found it to be rather disappointing.

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

413NZHCSZKL The Pleasure of My Company

by Steve Martin

I first read this novel several years ago.  I remember enjoying it immensely, and I remember it being about a guy with Autism – perhaps Asperger’s, although at the time I didn’t yet have a child with a disability and wasn’t yet very informed at all about disability or autism (I can’t say that I am now knowledgeable about autism, but perhaps more so than I was back then, if only by virtue of association with parents of autistic kids and one or two autistic adults).

In any case, as it turns out, upon re-reading The Pleasure of My Company a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it’s not about a guy with autism, but rather, it’s about a guy with OCD.

Daniel Pecan Cambridge, in his early to mid-thirties, lives in an apartment in scenic Santa Monica.  He’s pretty disabled by his obsessive compulsive disorder (and for anyone who casually throws around the term “OCD” to describe any structured or high-strung behavior, you should know that OCD is an actual disorder, and it’s offensive to use the term flippantly or derogatorily, and you probably should stop doing it).  He can’t step off of curbs; he can only cross streets at driveways that are directly across from another driveway.  All of the burning lightbulbs in his apartment must add up to exactly 1125 watts at all times.  He becomes incapacitated by anxiety if faced with anything that deviates from the structured rituals he has created for himself.  Because of the severity of his compulsions and anxiety, he doesn’t drive and can’t work, so is on disability, and is visited once a week by a student shrink.

Despite his quirks, Daniel is charming and funny.  He’s also sensitive and lonely, and his vulnerability makes him very endearing.  He fancies himself in love with a middle-aged realtor who hawks apartments across the street; they’ve never actually met, but he is pretty sure that she won’t be able to help but fall for him once they meet face to face.  An actress who lives in his complex is a regular at his apartment and Daniel manages to act as her surrogate therapist; her boyfriend, the big galumph, turns out to be a very good friend to Daniel, indeed (sniff sniff).  And then his relationship with the student shrink takes an unexpected turn … well, I won’t spoil it.

Though neither autism or Asperger’s is ever mentioned in the book, nor in any descriptions of the book that I could find online, it does seem like Daniel does have some autistic traits – but what do I know?  I wonder what the author’s intent was in that regard.

In any case, Steve Martin (yes, THE Steve Martin – actor, comedian, banjo player extraordinaire) is a gifted writer.  I’ve read all of his novels and enjoyed them all.  In this novel, he creates a believable, likeable character with a disability that, in the end, doesn’t disable him, and enriches the lives of those around him.

A real treat.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

[Originally posted on June 16, 2014 here]

9781476729091_p0_v10_s260x420 The Rosie Project: A Novel
by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a genetics professor at an esteemed university in Melbourne, Australia. He’s rigid and deadpan, lacks social finesse, and his life is ruled by a whiteboard hung in his orderly apartment. At thirty-nine years old, Don has decided that it makes sense to acquire a matrimonial partner, and perhaps reproduce. And so he embarks on The Wife Project, a process involving a detailed, multi-page questionnaire presented to potential mates which will screen out all unsuitable applicants: smokers, vegans, jewelry wearers, mathematical illiterates, and the list goes on. And on.

Enter Rosie: twenty-nine, disorganized, impulsive, sometime smoker, and bartender. Rosie shows up in Don’s office one day, and believing her to be a Wife Project applicant, he rules her out immediately as completely and totally unsuitable. However, her quest to find out who her biological father is intrigues Don, and together Don and Rosie embark on The Father Project. Don’s ordered life is turned upside down by Rosie, and, well . . . it’s not hard to see where this is going. Eventually, a new project emerges: The Rosie Project, as Don realizes that he’s in love with Rosie and tries to win her over by attempting to break out of the rigid mold he’s encased himself in.

The story includes a lively supporting cast, including Gene and Claudia, husband and wife psychologists who have an open marriage, who are Don’s only two friends. Gene is on his own quest: to have sex with a woman from as many countries in the world as possible. It is Gene who sends Rosie to Don’s office that fateful day, as a “wild card” for Don’s search for a suitable mate.

It’s obvious from the get-go that Don has Asperger’s syndrome (and he doesn’t realize it), and I have to confess that I had mixed feelings about it throughout the book. Because the story is meant to be a comedy, I couldn’t be sure that on some level Asperger’s wasn’t being exploited or poked fun of, and that made me uncomfortable. Don is an immensely likeable guy despite his social ineptitude and many quirks, and he’s definitely cast as the hero of the story. Still, I’m not sure if there is some sort of statement buried in the story illustrating our societal desire to fix anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within social constructs, or if it’s more of a statement about all of our foibles as human beings, Asperger’s or not.

I chose this book on recommendations from a couple of friends when I was trying to decide which book to choose for my book club this month. Although it’s apparently a bestseller, I had not heard of it before the recommendations. It’s probably not a book I would have otherwise chosen, as my tastes lean more towards drama and adversity. That said, I enjoyed it very much. It’s a quick-paced, light and entertaining read, and there were parts that literally had me laughing out loud. There’s a little bit of intrigue and suspense as Don goes to wild lengths to figure out Rosie’s paternity (the guess I made early on was right on, so it’s probably not difficult for the reader to figure out). It’s a pretty formulaic romantic comedy (can we please stop saying “rom-com”? Seriously.), and in fact was originally written as a screenplay. It has been optioned by Sony for the big screen.