Whether intentional or not, the similarities are numerous between Don Tillman, hero of Graeme Simsion’s simple but sweet novel The Rosie Project, and Sheldon Cooper, the idiosyncratic, socially inept character from the television show The Big Bang Theory. Both are college professors engaged in the sciences; both display traits consistent with Asperger syndrome; and both struggle, with comedic results, to form and maintain relationships in a society they don’t understand and which doesn’t understand them.
Don is a genetics professor at an Australian university who decides to find a wife. Since he has trouble in social situations, he tries a more academic route and creates a sixteen page (double-sided) questionnaire to give to possible candidates with the goal of quickly and efficiently weeding out those that don’t meet his stringent requirements. In addition to the usual matchmaking questions covering smoking and drinking, Don asks seemingly random questions such as “Do you eat kidneys?” (included to sniff out food problems) or ones designed to trick the respondents, like the one asking for body mass index number, included not necessarily to get an idea of what the women look like, but to see if they are intelligent enough to do the math.
The problem with Don’s method is not the overly analytical questionnaire or his unrealistic expectations in a possible mate. The problem is that he is not a great catch himself. His apartment is filled with white boards displaying the schedule of his days with activities timed out to the minute, and any disruption to this routine causes him consternation. His wardrobe is made up of just a few items of clothing that he has had for ten years or more. He is an accomplished cook, but follows his own Standardized Meal System in which he only prepares the same seven meals, each one assigned to a particular day of the week. All of this is designed to make his life as efficient as possible, which it does, but it also makes him boring and incompatible with those around him.
So things are not looking good for Don and his Wife Project. Then Rosie comes into his life. It is obvious immediately that Rosie is not a viable wife candidate considering she can’t cook, doesn’t exercise, and is late for their first meeting, but she has a problem that Don can help her solve: find out who her real father is. Her mother had a one night stand with a fellow classmate the night before graduating from medical school, and nine months later, Rosie was born. Now Rosie wants to find out the identity of her real father and elicits the help of Don and his expertise in genetics. Thus begins the Father Project which puts Don and Rosie together chasing down former classmates of her mother to surreptitiously collect their DNA.
The Rosie Project began as a screenplay and it has the pratfalls, unlikely scenarios, and requisite romantic tension of a sitcom or romantic comedy, but it is an endearing story with likable characters and a predictable ending. All of which is just the right combination for good summer reading.