I don’t often review adult books, in part because I hate reading “spoilers” about books. The other part is, I read a huge number of books and the idea of giving them equal attention in reviews is daunting. It’s one of those ideas that has so many steps and possibilities that it’s impossible to begin on the task. So I’m not going to try to review all the books I read/have read. However, I read a relevant book recently which has been on my mind, so I thought I’d mention my take on it in case someone else wants to read it. It has some good and entertaining points as well as some glaring issues… forewarned is forearmed and all that. Though you probably already have forearms.
The premise of “The Rosie Project” is that there is a guy with Asperger’s who sets out, early in the course of the book, to find a wife, by coming up with a list of required characteristics. Of course he meets someone who doesn’t fulfill “the checklist” and yet somehow despite not matching the criteria, it’s hard to move on… maybe the checklist isn’t everything after all. (You will find out this much in any description of the book, so I don’t think I’m giving too much away here). With this basic description in mind, you also kind of already know how the book is going to turn out, so how it gets there is the enjoyment. It’s a bit along the lines of a Romantic Comedy, if it were a movie (which it probably should be). There’s also a mystery subplot which is also (unfortunately) rather predictable, but…there you go. This isn’t really a mystery story although it makes itself out to be , it’s really about the relationship of two flawed people. Or if you don’t consider Asperger’s a flaw, one highly flawed person 😀 (this is one of those romantic stories where I like the guy more than I like the girl he ends up with, but oh well…I think that’s usually the case with me when something is presented from the guy’s perspective. But again, this story is about the journey.).
The book appealed to me because it was a fictional account of someone with Asperger’s. I’ve read more non-fiction accounts (and only one by a woman with Asperger’s, actually… maybe Asperger’s is funnier on guys). It was also intriguing because I have come up with my own massive (and according to anyone who has heard of it, too picky and ridiculous) “list” of traits to guide selection of a prospective husband. I have also considered making a quiz like the guy does in the book. Even knowing that the book was probably going to point out the fallibility of the list, I still thought it would be enjoyable.
It was. Except for a few very troublesome points. I will point these out because I can’t not point them out, and because in a book about somebody with Asperger’s it’s astonishing that they were there.
1) My first big stumbling block is that the guy has already met “Rosie” but he doesn’t realize he had met her before when he meets her again and thinks she is somebody else. Now, with someone like me who recognizes barely anybody, this would be commonplace. It’d probably even be a plot point, if I could realize how I’ve met the person before and haha I totally thought it was someone else this time around but it’s really not… except that usually I don’t realize that. The other person just gets miffed and I go on oblivious. No plot point. Funny for the viewer without prosopagnosia, I’m sure, but probably not enough to carry a whole movie, though it definitely could be amusing especially if it happened over and over again and hilarity continued to ensue that would just have been solved if I just recognized these recurring characters. My life would be a great, if disturbing and highly improbable, drama/comedy. People would probably complain about the mulligans. But I digress, as usual.
The reason this is such a HUGE issue in this book, is that later in the book when he is tending bar at some event, he recognizes the face, matching name, and drink of everybody at the party, in some cases after only seeing them NEVER before and only a photograph. Granted, he has studied the photograph of the entire group (minus spouses) and prepared for this, but the photograph is from years before. He figures out who the spouses are by the names, he has all the names, he’s a whiz at remembering what they ordered and doesn’t have to write anything down. So there’s that. That isn’t the unbelievable part either. The problem is if he’s so amazing and remembering all these strangers and what they ordered, why didn’t he recognize Rosie from the first time he saw her? He even noted how she was dressed before and that she was attractive. So it doesn’t add up.
2) As with many people with Asperger’s, the main character is very detail oriented and precise. That’s why this next example is such a problem in this book of all books. He confronts a student, as argument against a creative God, with a flounder, saying the fish ‘evolved’ from a normally proportioned fish that has eyes on both sides of its head. The flounder, as we know, has its two eyes on the same side of its head so it can see upwards as it lies flat on the bottom, sort of like a character in “The Simpsons.” An odd-looking fish compared to the usual fish arrangement. Previous readers may have guessed that I, personally, believe in a creative God, though I don’t see evolution in the sense Darwin actually meant it as being contrary to that at all. But that’s not the issue here. It’s a logical problem. In actuality, the flounder isn’t born with its eyes that way, “evolved” from a so-called normal fish. They are born with the usual fish proportions while the baby flounder swims around like other fish, it doesn’t lie on the bottom. While it lives this way, it has eyes on both sides of its head as would be expected. But as it grows up, it gradually changes. It starts lying on the bottom, and the “bottom” eye travels to the top side. The coloration also changes, so the side of the fish that now faces up can camouflage with the sea floor, while the bottom side of the fish does not have that coloration. It can be compared with the metamorphosis of a tadpole into a frog, adapting to different needs of that part of the life cycle. Actually, fairly ingenious. The point is that the main character should surely have known that flounders are not born that way, considering his scientific background and general adherence to facts, which makes his argument weak as well.
3) The last problem in this book was there was a segment that takes a dig at a muslim character in a totally unnecessary way. As a muslim reader I felt disappointing and saddened that this was even included, because the humor comes from making fun of Islam. The character is tricked into drinking alcohol and Rosie remarks “Praise Allah” mockingly when learning that he is not related to her as part of a study which is central the plot. The whole “scene” is completely unnecessary to the rest of the book and just made me deflated that these things are seen as popular humor. Pointless and alienating to a big part of the population.
I really wanted to like the book and I did for the most part, other than those mentioned items which stuck in my gut afterwards and were just problematic! The last one probably won’t bother most readers, more’s the pity, but the first two coming from the perspective of an Aspie narrator just clash a lot with how the character is otherwise portrayed, especially since the plot sort of hinges on #1, and #2 is supposed to be a supporting detail of a very particular character who researches everything. Except flounders, apparently. (I remember reading about this feature of flounders when I was about 8).
Other than that, I thought the author did a very good job of portraying the character. I didn’t know this going into the book, but the narrator doesn’t actually KNOW he has Asperger’s, although it seems that other characters in the book know/suspect that he has it (and readers will assume this from how it is presented). I wondered at the author’s choice to not have him know, and then thought perhaps he didn’t want the book to be about how he finds out about having it, and all that, which admittedly seems to be a feature of most books about Asperger’s, whether fictional or not. Also then you have the character sort of knowing which parts of their behavior are due to Asperger’s. So in some ways, as someone who only realized I have Asperger’s as an adult, I found it realistic how he just sort of drifts along and he doesn’t identify which of his behaviors stem from this. Because it really is hard to tell sometimes. I know enough to know that some of my behaviors stem from Asperger’s but it can be extremely hard to figure out which things are and are not considered “normal” from the inside, while everyone else assumes I know because it is “so obvious.” Further, since it’s not explicitly stated that he has Asperger’s, the other characters don’t comment on this fact or judge him based on this, which is true for a lot of us whether or not officially diagnosed… since we’re trying to “pass” amongst the rest of the populace. They are just annoyed sometimes by his apparently strange (and amusing, it’s a humorous book) behaviors.
I did find it odd that Rosie was SO angry about even the very idea of the having a list of traits desirable in a spouse. Actually this seems fairly common among the general population. Long before I ever had such a list, when I was in college most of my girl friends all had “the list” of what they wanted in a guy. (I didn’t come up with even a rudimentary “list” until I was already married to my now-ex, and that was more what I didn’t want 😛 his bad points). I’ve also heard “the list” touted as a way to just determine, for yourself, what you are looking for, or even help you locate it along the lines of a “vision board.” As someone who is only interested in a serious relationship (as was the main character in the book: he wanted to find a wife) it seems to make sense to vet out the deep questions up front so as to avoid needless investment that is not going to work out. Recently, I was reading another blog where the author writes about his attempts to find “the one,” and it came up on the first date that the woman he’d met with wanted kids, while he did not. This is one of his firm criteria. Several people commented that the first date was waaaaaayy too early to be getting into that. I, on the other hand, agreed with the author (except I’d be looking for someone who DOES want kids). If they didn’t, what’s the point in continuing? It’s not something I’d ever decide to capitulate on and say okay, no kids, and why even go into that with the condition in my head that I’d somehow change their mind at some point… that’s not fair to them either. And I would say this even if I didn’t already have a kid (which I guess makes it easier since people who don’t want kids will definitely be staying far away), because I always wanted kids. I’m also fairly sure I couldn’t do what the narrator did and capitulate on smoking, based on prior experience, and despite knowing some great people who smoke.
I also found it odd that at a certain point in the book, Rosie decides that it is impossible for the guy to love. Not just to love her, but that he is incapable of it in general. I found this somewhat troubling. Maybe it’s because I’ve encountered assumptions along this line before about autism. Not surprisingly, the main guy is a bit flustered by this… (“Wait… could she be right? Am I not feeling what other people feel?”). That, I could relate to. It’s hard to know, sometimes, when people tell you that something is fundamentally broken with you… do you believe it or do you believe that yes, I may be different in some ways but underneath we have the same types of feelings? (FYI… I believe that people on the autism spectrum are certainly capable of love, perhaps even more deeply. Most of the ways of expressing love that people recognize are very stereotypical (and learned), and a quick examination shows that those expressions are not what love actually is, and that it can be felt and expressed in many other ways). All in all, perhaps unsurprisingly, I related more to the narrator than to Rosie, who often presented puzzling behavior.
So, the book didn’t make me decide that the whole idea of having this list of requirements was necessarily a bad thing (you have to start somewhere in the depressing world of online matchmaking), but it did open my eyes to the idea that to some people, simply having one might be offensive (though I’m still not sure why…). Other than that, except for the glaring flaws I mentioned, it was entertaining. It turns out it was originally written as a screenplay, so perhaps it makes sense that it really reads like a movie, and perhaps is designed to become one (and if so I hope they will fix those issues I ran into). If those were fixed and it otherwise followed the book (rather than introducing other movie-making-related problems that often happen), I would watch and enjoy it.
So… read at your own risk 😛