Oh no. Oh nooo. It’s a series. Those were my exact words upon doing a cursory Google search prior to starting this review. In prepping to tear into The Rosie Project, I learned that there are two follow-ups that I don’t think my morbid curiosity will let me not read. To answer my previous question of if I’m a masochist: yes. Why else would I suffer through multiple seasons of dreadful Dexter and Archer simply because I’d already devoted so many years of my time to the shows? Why else would I watch sequels to movies I didn’t like, movies by directors whose other films I’d hated, etc.? I’m going to hate-read both of these and I’m going to hate myself for it. Hopefully my sanity will remain intact.
Onto the first book in this (shudder) series, The Rosie Project follows, well… yeah, people are right, he’s basically Sheldon Cooper. And just as unlikable! But he didn’t rub me the wrong way from the outset. No, it took him a little longer to earn his way into my bad graces. However, there were warning signs very early on that the book as a whole was going to get on my nerves.
First, we have his co-worker doing a supposed academic study that involves him doing the horizontal tango with woman of every nationality (while married and with kids) to see the differences between them all. At this point, I think I was already mentally checked out, and we were only on I think the first chapter.
Next, our main character, Don, does a research project on Aspergers, while being the caricature-esque posture child for ASD himself, and still never has that lightbulb moment that maybe he and those kids, who he calls victims of Aspergers, are one in the same. I felt like the author was trying to give representation to the community, while not necessarily smearing it, yet that “victims” line left a bad taste in my mouth for quite a while. So too did the fact that they created a walking autism stereotype, one who’s researched the subject, including fake research to further a different project altogether later on in the book, and never give him that moment of clarity, or even allow for others to strongly hint at it (aside from what I think was one very weak hint).
Moreover, this man who is undoubtedly on the spectrum is often the subject of scorn for being “weird,” most of this coming from his love interest, so it would’ve even been a quality story beat to have him figure out and tell him “no, it’s just how I am, take it or leave it. Instead, he tries to change himself drastically to fit what he perceives to be “normal” to find acceptance. He winds up being sort of accepted for his quirks, but the path to that resolution is such a rocky, problematic one that I can’t even give it credit for that tiny bit.
Now, onto why I grew to hate him as a character, it begins with one of his quirks, which is that he immediately makes a mental note of his age and BMI guess for every person he meets. You might be thinking “what’s so bad about that?” Well, if it were just that, I’d be with you there. But this guy mentally shits on anyone he guesses has an unhealthy BMI. At one point, he has a forced interaction with a sports fan (hating sports himself), referring to him simply as the fat sports fan (or something to that effect) every time he’s mentioned, and ends the discussion of the man claiming he thinks he found a friend. I had to stop there and wonder if this man was mentally ill. The two had nothing in common, he was just sort of doing his best to make conversation, and all the while he was mentally insulting him. How the hell does this constitute friendship? But, I mean, Don is friends with his sexist, racist co-worker who’s doing that extra-marital affair bull that he’s somehow allowed to pass off as academics and claims his wife is in actuality okay with, so maybe his idea of what constitutes a worthy friend is broken?
On top of that, it’s absurd how this man can apparently pick up any skill on a whim if given just a brief amount of time to practice it. He learns enough about being a bartender in a couple days to get offered a job. He learns enough about dancing in a couple days to be the talk of the town. Etc. He has failures, but even they are miniscule.
Lastly, I must say that Simsion ratcheted every negative aspect of ASD up to 11 with Don. He takes everything literally, and I assume we’re supposed to find it funny? He can’t read social situations. He says things that wind up being uncouth. He has a positive obsession with order. Like to the point that he has a weekly menu for himself so grocery shopping and cooking are all rote. Oh, and apparently he’s okay with those all going out the window when a pretty face comes by. No meltdowns here. Internally he claims to be freaking out, but he just goes with the flow? No chance in hell, my dude.
The Rosie Project feels like it just wants to use ASD to make its main character “quirky,” all the while never owning up to his obvious ASD and handling it and everything else horribly. This is arguably the worst book you could read that relates to ASD, I think, and that’s including the Picoult book I couldn’t even finish because of the anti-vax rhetoric, because at least that seemed to be handling the actual representation well enough. I can’t wait to see how much worse it can get in the two sequels…