Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book #3: The Rosie Project

I read this novel because it is our February selection for book club. I read it a month early because I had the fortunate chance to hear the author, Graeme Simsion, speak at The King's English in Salt Lake City last night. It was a brilliant choice. Entertaining book. Fascinating author.

I'd read about a quarter of the book before Simsion's presentation, then read the rest of book with his voice reading Don Tillman--the main character who unfolds in first person his story of setting out in a most logical fashion to find a wife--ringing in my head. Also brilliant.

Don Tillman's voice is unique, and not just because he speaks with an Australian accent. Simsion rooted Tillman's character in people he worked with in the computer industry during the 1970s. 

People just like my own brother.

My brother packed information into his brain, picked apart the logic of everything, and had an unusual sense of humor that I realized wasn't unusual at all after I took a job in the computer industry myself.

And once my sister and I listened to my brother talk about a woman he'd met, and our jaws dropped when he complained that she wouldn't go out with him after he'd told her the three things she'd need to change to be perfect for him. For Pete's sake, he said, it was only three things!

But also in many ways not just like my brother.

While my brother had very specific ideas about how the world should work and didn't always adapt very well when it didn't, he did not share Tillman's methodical approach to living. Also, emotion spilled every which way out of my brother.

Was Tillman somewhere on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum? Maybe. Maybe not. Simsion was deliberately vague on that, he said. But people who are on the spectrum do identify with Tillman. And people who know people who are on the spectrum have said they appreciate the opportunity to get inside Tillman's head and better understand his way of thinking.

Was my brother on the spectrum? Maybe. Maybe not. Simsion explained that he was deliberately vague about Tillman because being on the autism spectrum doesn't mean just one way of being. People are, after all, individuals.
"I consider you remarkably intelligent--"

"Don't say it."

"Say what?"

"'For a barmaid.' You were going to say that weren't you?"

Rosie had predicted correctly.

"My mother was a doctor. So is my father, if you're talking about genes. And you don't have to be a professor to be smart. I saw your face when I said I got seventy-four on the GAMSAT. You were thinking,
He won't believe this woman is that smart. But he did. So, put your prejudices away."

It was a reasonable criticism. I had little contact with people outside academia and had formed my assumptions about the rest of the world primarily from watching films and television as a child. I recognized that the characters in
Lost in Space and Star Trek were probably not representative of humans in general. Certainly, Rosie did not conform to my barmaid stereotype. It was quite likely that many of my other assumptions about people were wrong. This was no surprise.
In the end? Don Tillman learned he couldn't even rely on assumptions he'd made about himself.

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