Working with the cliché

SIMSION - The Rosie Project

I wasn’t looking for this book [much less read it], and even if I’d seen it I would have hightailed far away from it—the cover of The Rosie Project is just so full of joy, it makes one shudder. But this kept appearing over and over on my Twitter feed, and what little of the buzz that reached me pinged at a soul-candy-hungry corner of my psyche. But it was the review at Smart Bitches that nailed it for me—specifically, this excerpt [because this excerpt told me—and I’d soon confirm it myself—that Don Tillman, socially inept penguin, was my kind of post-op companion]:

“Don, can I ask you something?”

“One question.”

“Do you find me attractive?”

Gene told me the next day that I got it wrong. But he was not in a taxi, after an evening of total sensory overload, with the most beautiful woman in the world. I wanted Rosie to like me, and I remembered her passionate statement about men treating women as objects. She was testing to see if I saw her as an object or as a person. Obviously the correct answer was the latter.

“I haven’t really noticed,” I told the most beautiful woman in the world.

I read this almost at the heels of wrapping up Fangirl. [I actually read Fangirl first because I could feel in my gut that Graeme Simsion‘s novel would beat that to a pulp, in the Feels department.] I took it slow the first day or so, because even twenty pages in I was enjoying Don Tillman’s company; it was fascinating how he tried to navigate the world with its tricky social conventions and flying bullshit, and mostly succeeded. Then last night, my first sip of coffee [from a straw, sweet baby Jaysus!] in a week screwed my normalizing body clock. And before I knew it, the sun had risen, and I was sniffling at the close of this luridly Valentine-red novel. It was adorable. It was affecting. It made me squee in the wee hours of the morning, it made me laugh and shake my head and cringe, and root ever-more for Don Tillman. It was perfect soul-candy, plain and simple.

So Don Tillman needs a wife, and his beautifully compartmentalizing brain has devised The Wife Project. Rosie is the worst possible candidate, completely incompatible to Don according the the parameters of TWP.  [It is at this point that I must direct you, once again, to Smart Bitches, for their review. Which includes a summary, something I can’t seem to be able to do with limited brain power. Anyway, while you’re there: Sarah is absolutely crazy for this book, and I concur with all the squeeing she does.]

The excerpt made me give in and run to my friendly neighborhood Fully Booked—because I knew that I was a sucker for bewildered men. That’s one of my favorite tropes—the awkward smartypants caught in a torrent that is his/her significant other. This was my jam, ladies and gentlemen, and The Rosie Project fulfilled my hankering for a character who knew precisely how the world worked but didn’t bother to conform to it—until some girl wreaks havoc on his orderly life.

That is: I welcomed The Rosie Project because it knew it was working with a cliché, and it dug within that cliché for some human adorababbleness. It knew the limitations set by the trope, and had fun with it anyway—in the process delivering a completely absorbing book about an absolutely fascinating man trying to figure out this Human Interaction business. The Rosie Project is, essentially, a cliché that worked well. It makes one thankful for clichés, really, and for authors who know what to do with them.

Goddammit, I really enjoyed reading this goddamned book.

You read The Rosie Project for Don Tillman. And therein, I’ve realized, lies one of the weaknesses of the novel. [Weaknesses I don’t care about because my Feels are still all over the place right now, and whenever I think about Don my face turns into a freaking emoticon.] This novel is Don Tillman. He shares his story, and it’s his voice that’s so perfectly awkward and observant—even though he doesn’t always understand what he’s just observed. It’s his structured life, now unraveling because of one Rosie, that we’re following. And Rosie? Rosie is nothing. I liked Rosie because Don Tillman liked her; I liked Rosie because I liked reading what her existence did to Don Tillman’s well-ordered life. But I was never rooting for her. (Sometimes, I just wanted to sit her down and go, “You are not being very nice right now, lady.”) Because Rosie was never really a person to me.

I understand that this could be because of Don’s inherent disconnect with the world. This could also be the logic behind why any opportunity to delve deeper—to move away from lighthearted and entertaining to seriously brood about the dark shit—was neatly skirted. Because Don doesn’t deal with those things. Then again, I would have liked (I realized now, and I wasn’t complaining at all when I read it, haha) if there was a relenting to Don’s narrative as well. To how he talked about Rosie. How truly alive she is for him. I wanted more convincing—hell, I just wanted a longer book, probably—that Rosie was the perfect, most compatible (questionnaire-be-damned) object of Don’s version of affection.

Then again, these are the gripes of a girl who thoroughly enjoyed the book and only wished, way retrospectively, that it could have been the best book that it could be—according to her, um, my tastes. Griping, aka unforeseen side-effect of nomming on soul-candy, I suppose?

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