We all know the formula for a romantic-comedy: A character who struggles with dating overcomes a series of awkward complications in order to fall in love and live happily ever after. “The Rosie Project,” the debut novel from Australian author Graeme Simsion, enlivens this established plotline with an unusual lead character: Don Tillman, a tightly-wound associate professor of genetics.
Don is fed up with dating and develops an extensive survey (dubbed “The Wife Project”) to filter out unsuitable mates, thereby saving time and energy. However, when Don meets Rosie, a spontaneous, charming woman looking for help identifying her biological father, he begins to realize that sometimes your perfect match is your perfect opposite.
The characters in Simsion’s novel are fantastic, delivering a number of hilarious and surprisingly moving moments, including Don’s wild success as a bartender. Simsion closely follows the traditional romantic comedy format, setting “The Rosie Project” (Simon & Schuster, 304 pages, $24) up to be a sure hit in bookstores — and at the box office.
However, in adhering so closely to convention, Simsion disregards perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his novel: that Don has Asperger’s. It’s refreshing to have a main character with Asperger’s — and to have him be sought after by a number of women — but Simsion never addresses the fact that Don feels “awkwardness, approaching revulsion … when forced into intimate contact with another human” and how this would complicate Don’s ability to reach the conventional “happily ever after” ending. Instead, Simsion clutters the novel with a number of side plots, distracting readers from this question. With so many side twists and turns, the final 50 pages read like a series of sudden endings rather than one overall conclusion, making Don’s resolution feel disappointingly contrived.