If you enjoyed The Rosie Project as much as I did, you’ll be thrilled to know that Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are back in Graeme Simsion’s second novel The Rosie Effect. Not only are they back, but they’re married and – surprise! – expecting a baby. Will Don, a brilliant but socially challenged genetics professor, and Rosie, a free-spirited medical student, be able to navigate the path to parenthood together? You’ll have to read this hilarious and heart-tugging book to find out.
We first met this unlikely pair in Simsion’s 2013 bestseller, when Don launched The Wife Project. The highly intelligent, textbook Asperger’s case (think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, minus the ego) decided that a wife would improve his quality of life, but as he later admitted, “My innate logical skills were significantly greater than my interpersonal skills.” Don designed a comprehensive questionnaire to identify candidates with desirable traits such as Non-Smoking, Punctual and Omnivorous. Then he met Rosie, a chronically late vegetarian…and a smoker! She failed Don’s questionnaire, but caused him to experience emotions that he couldn’t explain. He ultimately dropped The Wife Project to help Rosie find her biological father and, in the process, discovered that he was capable of going beyond logic and finding true love.
In this outing, Don and Rosie have moved from their native Australia to New York, where domestic bliss has had a mellowing effect on Don. “I had learned that, in marriage, reason frequently had to take second place to harmony,” he says, a sentiment that would have been unthinkable only a few months earlier. But the announcement of Rosie’s surprise pregnancy puts his newfound adaptability to the test. Is Don up to the task of fatherhood? Will he be able to forge a strong emotional connection with the baby, as he did with Rosie? Can he manage two close relationships at once? He initiates The Baby Project to find out.
The mission spirals out of control almost immediately, when an afternoon spent observing children at a playground lands Don at the police station. His newly-acquired expertise on fetal development and maternal nutrition requirements seem to have a maddening effect on Rosie, who I’m sorry to say is somewhat less likeable than she was in the first book. Meanwhile, Don’s friends need help with their own urgent problems. It will take all of Don’s considerable brainpower, plus the support of his friends and a little bit of luck to save his marriage and his chance at fatherhood. I have no doubt you’ll be cheering him on the whole way.
Don narrates the entire story, which grants readers an enlightening perspective on the inner workings of his mind and his social interactions. His straightforward, logical approach sets a comically ironic tone for the book, especially when it exposes the highly irregular behavior of the supposedly regular people in his life. It also helps readers understand how challenging everyday situations can be for those who are “wired differently,” as Don puts it.
In one memorable scene, Don is thoroughly affronted when a Loud Woman in a bar calls him “Rain Man.” “A society of Rain Men would be dysfunctional,” he scoffs. “A society of Don Tillmans would be efficient, safe, and pleasant for all of us.”
I couldn’t agree more, and I hope Simsion will give us many more opportunities to check in on Don and Rosie in the future.