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Ebook The Rosie Project (a Novel) By Graeme Simsion | Epub, Mobi, Text

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  1. mukul
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    thirty
    I booked a meeting with Claudia at the usual café to discuss social behavior. I realized that improving my ability to interact with other humans would require some effort and that my best attempts might not convince Rosie. But the skills would be useful in their own right.

    I had, to some extent, become comfortable with being socially odd. At school, I had been the unintentional class clown and eventually the intentional one. It was time to grow up.

    The server approached our table. “You order,” said Claudia.

    “What would you like?”

    “A skinny decaf latte.”

    This is a ridiculous form of coffee, but I did not point it out. Claudia would surely have received the message from previous occasions and would not want it repeated. It would be annoying to her.

    “I’d like a double espresso,” I said to the server, “and my friend will have a skinny decaf latte, no sugar, please.”

    “Well,” said Claudia. “Something’s changed.”

    I pointed out that I had been successfully and politely ordering coffee all my life, but Claudia insisted that my mode of interaction had changed in subtle ways.

    “I wouldn’t have picked New York City as the place to learn to be genteel,” she said, “but there you go.”

    I told her that, on the contrary, people had been extremely friendly, citing my experience with Dave the Baseball Fan, Mary the bipolar-disorder researcher, David Borenstein the dean of medicine at Columbia, and the chef and weird guy at Momofuku Ko. I mentioned that we had dined with the Eslers, describing them as friends of Rosie’s family. Claudia’s conclusion was simple. All this unaccustomed social interaction, plus that with Rosie, had dramatically improved my skills.

    “You don’t need to try with Gene and me, because you’re not out to impress us or make friends with us.”

    While Claudia was right about the value of practice, I learn better from reading and observation. My next task was to download some educational material.

    I decided to begin with romantic films specifically mentioned by Rosie. There were four: Casablanca, The Bridges of Madison County, When Harry Met Sally, and An Affair to Remember. I added To Kill a Mockingbird and The Big Country for Gregory Peck, whom Rosie had cited as the sexiest man ever.

    It took a full week to watch all six, including time for pausing the DVD player and taking notes. The films were incredibly useful but also highly challenging. The emotional dynamics were so complex! I persevered, drawing on movies recommended by Claudia about male-female relationships with both happy and unhappy outcomes. I watched Hitch, Gone with the Wind,Bridget Jones’s Diary, Annie Hall, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Fatal Attraction.

    Claudia also suggested I watch As Good as It Gets, “just for fun.” Although her advice was to use it as an example of what notto do, I was impressed that the Jack Nicholson character handled a jacket problem with more finesse than I had. It was also encouraging that, despite serious social incompetence, a significant difference in age between him and the Helen Hunt character, probable multiple psychiatric disorders, and a level of intolerance far more severe than mine, he succeeded in winning the love of the woman in the end. An excellent choice by Claudia.

    Slowly I began to make sense of it all. There were certain consistent principles of behavior in male-female romantic relationships, including the prohibition of infidelity. That rule was in my mind when I met with Claudia again for social practice.

    We worked through some scenarios.

    “This meal has a fault,” I said. The situation was hypothetical. We were only drinking coffee. “That would be too confrontational, correct?”

    Claudia agreed. “And don’t say ‘fault’ or ‘error.’ That’s computer talk.”

    “But I can say, ‘I’m sorry, it was an error of judgment, entirely my fault,’ correct? That use of ‘fault’ is acceptable?”

    “Correct,” said Claudia, and then laughed. “I mean yes. Don, this takes years to learn.”

    I didn’t have years. But I am a quick learner and was in human-sponge mode. I demonstrated.

    “I’m going to construct an objective statement followed by a request for clarification, and preface it with a platitude: ‘Excuseme. I ordered a rare steak. Do you have a different definition of rare?”‘

    “Good start, but the question’s a bit aggressive.”

    “Not acceptable?”

    “In New York maybe. Don’t blame the waiter.”

    I modified the question. “Excuse me. I ordered a rare steak. Could you check that my order was processed correctly?”

    Claudia nodded. But she did not look entirely happy. I was paying great attention to expressions of emotion, and I had diagnosed hers correctly.

    “Don. I’m impressed, but . . . changing to meet someone else’s expectations may not be a good idea. You may end up resenting it.”

    I didn’t think this was likely. I was learning some new protocols, that was all.

    “If you really love someone,” Claudia continued, “you have to be prepared to accept them as they are. Maybe you hope that one day they get a wake-up call and make the changes for their own reasons.”

    This last statement connected with the fidelity rule that I had in my mind at the beginning of the discussion. I did not need to raise the subject now. I had the answer to my question. Claudia was surely talking about Gene.

    • • •

    I organized a run with Gene for the following morning. I needed to speak to him in private, somewhere he could not escape. I started my personal lecture as soon as we were moving. My key point was that infidelity was totally unacceptable. Any benefits were outweighed by the risk of total disaster. Gene had been divorced once already. Eugenie and Carl—

    Gene interrupted, breathing heavily. In my effort to get the message across unambiguously and forcefully, I had been running faster than normal. Gene is significantly less fit than I am and my fat-burning, low-heart-rate jogs are major cardiovascular workouts for him.

    “I hear you,” said Gene. “What’ve you been reading?”

    I told him about the movies I had been watching and their idealized representation of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. If Gene and Claudia had owned a rabbit, it would have been in serious danger from a disgruntled lover. Gene disagreed, not about the rabbit but about the impact of his behavior on his marriage.

    “We’re psychologists,” he said. “We can handle an open marriage.”

    I ignored his incorrect categorization of himself as a real psychologist and focused on the central issue: all authorities and moral codes consider fidelity critical. Even theories of evolutionary psychology concede that if a person discovers that their partner is unfaithful, they will have strong reasons for rejecting them.

    “You’re talking about men there,” said Gene. “Because they can’t afford the risk of raising a child who doesn’t have their genes. Anyway, I thought you were all about overcoming instinct.”

    “Correct. The male instinct is to cheat. You need to overcome it.”

    “Women accept it as long as you don’t embarrass them with it. Look at France.”

    I cited a counterexample from a popular book and film.

    “Bridget Jones’s Diary?” said Gene. “Since when are we expected to behave like characters in chick flicks?” He stopped and doubled over, gasping for breath. It gave me the opportunity to present him with the evidence without interruption. I finished by pointing out that he loved Claudia and that he should therefore be prepared to make all necessary sacrifices.

    “I’ll think about it when I see you changing the habits of a lifetime,” he said.

    • • •

    I had thought that eliminating my schedule would be relatively straightforward. I had just spent eight days without it, and while I had faced numerous problems, they were not related to inefficiency or unstructured time. But I had not factored in the impact of the enormous amount of turmoil in my life. As well as the uncertainty around Rosie, the social skills project, and the fear that my best friends were on the path to domestic disintegration, I was about to lose my job. The schedule of activities felt like the only stable thing in my life.

    In the end, I made a compromise that would surely be acceptable to Rosie. Everyone keeps a timetable of their regular commitments, in my case lectures, meetings, and martial arts classes. I would allow myself these. I would put appointments in my diary, as other people did, but reduce standardization. Things could change week by week. Reviewing my decision, I could see that the abandonment of the Standardized Meal System, the aspect of my schedule that provoked the most comment, was the only item requiring immediate attention.

    My next market visit was predictably strange. I arrived at the seafood stall and the proprietor turned to pull a lobster from the tank.

    “Change of plan,” I said. “What’s good today?”

    “Lobster,” he said, in his heavily accented English. “Lobster good every Tuesday for you.” He laughed, and waved his hand at his other customers. He was making a joke about me. Rosie had a facial expression that she used when she said, “Don’t fuck with me.” I tried the expression. It seemed to work by itself.

    “I’m joking,” he said. “Swordfish is beautiful. Oysters. You eat oysters?”

    I ate oysters, though I had never prepared them at home. I ordered them unshucked, as quality restaurants promoted their oysters as being freshly shucked.

    I arrived home with a selection of food not associated with any particular recipe. The oysters proved challenging. I could not get a knife in to open them without risking injury to my hand through slippage. I could have looked up the technique on the Internet, but it would have taken time. This was why I had a schedule based around familiar items. I could remove the meat from a lobster with my eyes closed while my brain worked on a genetics problem. What was wrong with standardization? Another oyster failed to provide an opening for my knife. I was getting annoyed and about to throw the full dozen in the trash when I had an idea.

    I put one in the microwave and heated it for a few seconds. It opened easily. It was warm but delicious. I tried a second, this time adding a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of pepper. Sensational! I could feel a whole world opening up to me. I hoped the oysters were sustainable, because I wanted to share my new skills with Rosie.
     
  2. mukul
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    thirty-one
    My focus on self-improvement meant that I had little time to consider and respond to the Dean’s threat of dismissal. I had decided not to take up Gene’s offer to construct an alibi; now that the breach of rules was in my conscious mind, it would be a violation of my personal integrity to compound the error.

    I succeeded in suppressing thoughts of my professional future but could not stop the Dean’s parting comment about Kevin Yu and my plagiarism complaint from intruding into my conscious mind. After much thought, I concluded that the Dean was not offering me an unethical deal: “Withdraw the complaint and you can keep your job.” What she said was bothering me because I had myself broken the rules in pursuing the Father Project. Gene had once told me a religious joke when I questioned the morality of his behavior.

    Jesus addresses the angry mob who are stoning a prostitute: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” A stone flies through the air and hits the woman. Jesus turns around and says, “Sometimes you really piss me off, Mother.”

    I could no longer be equated with the Virgin Mary. I had been corrupted. I was like everyone else. My stone-casting credibility had been significantly compromised.

    I summoned Kevin to a meeting in my office. He was from mainland China and aged approximately twenty-eight (estimated BMI nineteen). I interpreted his expression and demeanor as nervous.

    I had his essay, partly or entirely written by his tutor, in my hand and showed it to him. I asked the obvious question: Why had he not written it himself?

    He averted his gaze—which I interpreted as a cultural signal of respect rather than of shiftiness—but instead of answering my question, he started to explain the consequences of his probable expulsion. He had a wife and child in China and had not yet told them of the problem. He hoped someday to emigrate or, if not, at least to work in genetics. His unwise behavior would mean the end of his dreams and those of his wife, who had managed for almost four years without him. He was crying.

    In the past, I would have regarded this as sad but irrelevant. A rule had been broken. But now I was also a rule breaker. I had not broken the rules deliberately, or at least not with any conscious thought. Perhaps Kevin’s behavior had been similarly unconsidered.

    I asked Kevin, “What are the principal arguments advanced against the use of genetically modified crops?” The essay had been on the ethical and legal issues raised by advances in genetics. Kevin gave a comprehensive summary. I followed with further questions, which Kevin also answered well. He seemed to have a good knowledge of the topic.

    “Why didn’t you write this yourself?” I asked.

    “I am a scientist. I am not confident writing in English about moral and cultural questions. I wanted to be sure not to fail. I did not think.”

    I did not know how to respond to Kevin. Acting without thinking was anathema to me, and I did not want to encourage it in future scientists. Nor did I want my own weakness to affect a correct decision regarding Kevin. I would pay for my own error in this regard, as I deserved to. But losing my job would not have the same consequences for me as expulsion would for Kevin. I doubted he would be offered a potentially lucrative partnership in a cocktail bar as an alternative.

    I thought for quite a long time. Kevin just sat. He must have realized that I was considering some form of reprieve. But I was incredibly uncomfortable in this position of judgment as I weighed the impact of various decisions. Was this what the Dean had to do every day? For the first time, I felt some respect for her.

    I was not confident I could solve the problem in a short time. But I realized that it would be cruel to leave Kevin wondering if his life had been destroyed.

    “I understand . . ” I started, and realized that this was not a phrase I was accustomed to using when talking about people. I stopped the sentence and thought for a while longer. “I will create a supplementary task—probably an essay on personal ethics. As an alternative to expulsion.”

    I interpreted Kevin’s expression as ecstatic.

    • • •

    I was conscious that there was more to social skills than knowing how to order coffee and being faithful to your partner. Since my school days, I had selected my clothes without regard to fashion. I started out not caring how I looked, then discovered that people found what I wore amusing. I enjoyed being seen as someone not tied to the norms of society. But now I had no idea how to dress.

    I asked Claudia to buy me some suitable clothes. She had proved her expertise with the jeans and shirt, but she insisted on my accompanying her.

    “I may not be around forever,” she said. After some reflection, I deduced that she was talking not about death but about something more immediate: marriage failure! I had to find a way to convince Gene of the danger.

    The actual shopping took a full morning. We went to several shops, acquiring shoes, pants, a jacket, a second pair of jeans, more shirts, a belt, and even a tie.

    I had more shopping to do, but I did not require Claudia’s help. A photo was sufficient to specify my requirements. I visited the optometrist, the hairdresser (not my regular barber), and the menswear shop. Everyone was extremely helpful.

    My schedule and social skills had now been brought into line with conventional practice, to the best of my ability within the time I had allocated. The Don Project was complete. It was time to commence the Rosie Project.

    • • •

    On the inside of the closet in my office there was a mirror which I had never needed before. Now I used it to review my appearance. I expected I would have only one chance to cut through Rosie’s negative view of me and produce an emotional reaction. I wanted her to fall in love with me.

    Protocol dictated that I should not wear a hat indoors, but I decided that the PhD students’ area could be considered public. On that basis, it would be acceptable. I checked the mirror again. Rosie had been right. In my gray three-piece suit, I could be mistaken for Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Tillman. World’s sexiest man.

    Rosie was at her desk. So was Stefan, looking unshaven as always. I had my speech prepared.

    “Good afternoon, Stefan. Hi, Rosie. Rosie, I’m afraid it’s short notice but I was wondering if you’d join me for dinner this evening. There’s something I’d like to share with you.”

    Neither spoke. Rosie looked a little stunned. I looked at her directly. “That’s a charming pendant,” I said. “I’ll pick you up at seven forty-five.” I was shaking as I walked away, but I had given it my best effort. Hitch from Hitch would have been pleased with me.

    I had two more visits to make before my evening date with Rosie.

    I walked straight past Helena. Gene was in his office looking at his computer. On the screen was a photo of an Asian woman who was not conventionally attractive. I recognized the format: she was a Wife Project applicant. Place of birth—North Korea.

    Gene looked at me strangely. My Gregory Peck costume was doubtless unexpected but appropriate for my mission.

    “Hi, Gene.”

    “What’s with the ‘Hi’? What happened to ‘Greetings’?”

    I explained that I had eliminated a number of unconventional mannerisms from my vocabulary.

    “So Claudia tells me. You didn’t think your regular mentor was up to the job?”

    I wasn’t sure what he meant.

    He explained. “Me. You didn’t ask me.”

    This was correct. Feedback from Rosie had prompted me to reassess Gene’s social competence, and my recent work with Claudia and the movie exemplars had confirmed my suspicion that his skills applied to a limited domain and that he was not employing them in the best interests of himself and his family.

    “No,” I told him. “I wanted advice on socially appropriate behavior.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Obviously, you’re similar to me. That’s why you’re my best friend. Hence this invitation.” There had been a great deal of preparation for this day. I gave Gene an envelope. He did not open it but continued the conversation.

    “I’m like you? No offense, Don, but your behavior—your old behavior—was in a class of its own. If you want my opinion, you hid behind a persona that you thought people found amusing. It’s hardly surprising people saw you as a . . . buffoon.”

    This was exactly my point. But Gene was not making the connection. As his buddy, it was my duty to behave as an adult male and give it to him straight.

    I walked over to his map of the world, with a pin for every conquest. I checked it for what I hoped would be the last time. Then I stabbed it with my finger, to create an atmosphere of threat.

    “Exactly,” I said. “You think people see you as a Casanova. You know what? I don’t care what other people think of you, but if you want to know, they think you’re a jerk. And they’re right, Gene. You’re fifty-six years old with a wife and two kids, though for how much longer I don’t know. Time you grew up. I’m telling you that as a friend.”

    I watched Gene’s face. I was getting better at reading emotions, but this was a complex one. Shattered, I think.

    I was relieved. The basic male-male tough advice protocol had been effective. It had not been necessary to slug him.
     
  3. mukul
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    thirty-one
    My focus on self-improvement meant that I had little time to consider and respond to the Dean’s threat of dismissal. I had decided not to take up Gene’s offer to construct an alibi; now that the breach of rules was in my conscious mind, it would be a violation of my personal integrity to compound the error.

    I succeeded in suppressing thoughts of my professional future but could not stop the Dean’s parting comment about Kevin Yu and my plagiarism complaint from intruding into my conscious mind. After much thought, I concluded that the Dean was not offering me an unethical deal: “Withdraw the complaint and you can keep your job.” What she said was bothering me because I had myself broken the rules in pursuing the Father Project. Gene had once told me a religious joke when I questioned the morality of his behavior.

    Jesus addresses the angry mob who are stoning a prostitute: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” A stone flies through the air and hits the woman. Jesus turns around and says, “Sometimes you really piss me off, Mother.”

    I could no longer be equated with the Virgin Mary. I had been corrupted. I was like everyone else. My stone-casting credibility had been significantly compromised.

    I summoned Kevin to a meeting in my office. He was from mainland China and aged approximately twenty-eight (estimated BMI nineteen). I interpreted his expression and demeanor as nervous.

    I had his essay, partly or entirely written by his tutor, in my hand and showed it to him. I asked the obvious question: Why had he not written it himself?

    He averted his gaze—which I interpreted as a cultural signal of respect rather than of shiftiness—but instead of answering my question, he started to explain the consequences of his probable expulsion. He had a wife and child in China and had not yet told them of the problem. He hoped someday to emigrate or, if not, at least to work in genetics. His unwise behavior would mean the end of his dreams and those of his wife, who had managed for almost four years without him. He was crying.

    In the past, I would have regarded this as sad but irrelevant. A rule had been broken. But now I was also a rule breaker. I had not broken the rules deliberately, or at least not with any conscious thought. Perhaps Kevin’s behavior had been similarly unconsidered.

    I asked Kevin, “What are the principal arguments advanced against the use of genetically modified crops?” The essay had been on the ethical and legal issues raised by advances in genetics. Kevin gave a comprehensive summary. I followed with further questions, which Kevin also answered well. He seemed to have a good knowledge of the topic.

    “Why didn’t you write this yourself?” I asked.

    “I am a scientist. I am not confident writing in English about moral and cultural questions. I wanted to be sure not to fail. I did not think.”

    I did not know how to respond to Kevin. Acting without thinking was anathema to me, and I did not want to encourage it in future scientists. Nor did I want my own weakness to affect a correct decision regarding Kevin. I would pay for my own error in this regard, as I deserved to. But losing my job would not have the same consequences for me as expulsion would for Kevin. I doubted he would be offered a potentially lucrative partnership in a cocktail bar as an alternative.

    I thought for quite a long time. Kevin just sat. He must have realized that I was considering some form of reprieve. But I was incredibly uncomfortable in this position of judgment as I weighed the impact of various decisions. Was this what the Dean had to do every day? For the first time, I felt some respect for her.

    I was not confident I could solve the problem in a short time. But I realized that it would be cruel to leave Kevin wondering if his life had been destroyed.

    “I understand . . ” I started, and realized that this was not a phrase I was accustomed to using when talking about people. I stopped the sentence and thought for a while longer. “I will create a supplementary task—probably an essay on personal ethics. As an alternative to expulsion.”

    I interpreted Kevin’s expression as ecstatic.

    • • •

    I was conscious that there was more to social skills than knowing how to order coffee and being faithful to your partner. Since my school days, I had selected my clothes without regard to fashion. I started out not caring how I looked, then discovered that people found what I wore amusing. I enjoyed being seen as someone not tied to the norms of society. But now I had no idea how to dress.

    I asked Claudia to buy me some suitable clothes. She had proved her expertise with the jeans and shirt, but she insisted on my accompanying her.

    “I may not be around forever,” she said. After some reflection, I deduced that she was talking not about death but about something more immediate: marriage failure! I had to find a way to convince Gene of the danger.

    The actual shopping took a full morning. We went to several shops, acquiring shoes, pants, a jacket, a second pair of jeans, more shirts, a belt, and even a tie.

    I had more shopping to do, but I did not require Claudia’s help. A photo was sufficient to specify my requirements. I visited the optometrist, the hairdresser (not my regular barber), and the menswear shop. Everyone was extremely helpful.

    My schedule and social skills had now been brought into line with conventional practice, to the best of my ability within the time I had allocated. The Don Project was complete. It was time to commence the Rosie Project.

    • • •

    On the inside of the closet in my office there was a mirror which I had never needed before. Now I used it to review my appearance. I expected I would have only one chance to cut through Rosie’s negative view of me and produce an emotional reaction. I wanted her to fall in love with me.

    Protocol dictated that I should not wear a hat indoors, but I decided that the PhD students’ area could be considered public. On that basis, it would be acceptable. I checked the mirror again. Rosie had been right. In my gray three-piece suit, I could be mistaken for Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Tillman. World’s sexiest man.

    Rosie was at her desk. So was Stefan, looking unshaven as always. I had my speech prepared.

    “Good afternoon, Stefan. Hi, Rosie. Rosie, I’m afraid it’s short notice but I was wondering if you’d join me for dinner this evening. There’s something I’d like to share with you.”

    Neither spoke. Rosie looked a little stunned. I looked at her directly. “That’s a charming pendant,” I said. “I’ll pick you up at seven forty-five.” I was shaking as I walked away, but I had given it my best effort. Hitch from Hitch would have been pleased with me.

    I had two more visits to make before my evening date with Rosie.

    I walked straight past Helena. Gene was in his office looking at his computer. On the screen was a photo of an Asian woman who was not conventionally attractive. I recognized the format: she was a Wife Project applicant. Place of birth—North Korea.

    Gene looked at me strangely. My Gregory Peck costume was doubtless unexpected but appropriate for my mission.

    “Hi, Gene.”

    “What’s with the ‘Hi’? What happened to ‘Greetings’?”

    I explained that I had eliminated a number of unconventional mannerisms from my vocabulary.

    “So Claudia tells me. You didn’t think your regular mentor was up to the job?”

    I wasn’t sure what he meant.

    He explained. “Me. You didn’t ask me.”

    This was correct. Feedback from Rosie had prompted me to reassess Gene’s social competence, and my recent work with Claudia and the movie exemplars had confirmed my suspicion that his skills applied to a limited domain and that he was not employing them in the best interests of himself and his family.

    “No,” I told him. “I wanted advice on socially appropriate behavior.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Obviously, you’re similar to me. That’s why you’re my best friend. Hence this invitation.” There had been a great deal of preparation for this day. I gave Gene an envelope. He did not open it but continued the conversation.

    “I’m like you? No offense, Don, but your behavior—your old behavior—was in a class of its own. If you want my opinion, you hid behind a persona that you thought people found amusing. It’s hardly surprising people saw you as a . . . buffoon.”

    This was exactly my point. But Gene was not making the connection. As his buddy, it was my duty to behave as an adult male and give it to him straight.

    I walked over to his map of the world, with a pin for every conquest. I checked it for what I hoped would be the last time. Then I stabbed it with my finger, to create an atmosphere of threat.

    “Exactly,” I said. “You think people see you as a Casanova. You know what? I don’t care what other people think of you, but if you want to know, they think you’re a jerk. And they’re right, Gene. You’re fifty-six years old with a wife and two kids, though for how much longer I don’t know. Time you grew up. I’m telling you that as a friend.”

    I watched Gene’s face. I was getting better at reading emotions, but this was a complex one. Shattered, I think.

    I was relieved. The basic male-male tough advice protocol had been effective. It had not been necessary to slug him.
     
  4. mukul
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    thirty-two
    I went back to my office and changed from my Gregory Peck costume into my new pants and jacket. Then I made a phone call. The receptionist was not prepared to make an appointment for a personal matter, so I booked a fitness evaluation with Phil Jarman, Rosie’s father in air quotes, for 4:00 p.m.

    As I got up to leave, the Dean knocked and walked in. She signaled for me to follow her. It was not part of my plan, but today was an appropriate day to close this phase of my professional life.

    We went down in the lift and then across the campus to her office, not speaking. It seemed that our conversation needed to take place in a formal setting. I felt uncomfortable, which was a rational response to the almost-certain prospect of being dismissed for professional misconduct from a tenured position at a prestigious university. But I had expected this and my feelings came from a different source. The scenario triggered a memory from my first week at a new school, of being sent to the principal’s office as a result of allegedly inappropriate behavior. The purported misconduct involved a rigorous questioning of our religious education teacher. In retrospect, I understood that she was a well-meaning person, but she used her position of power over an eleven-year-old to cause me considerable distress.

    The principal was, in fact, reasonably sympathetic but warned me that I needed to show “respect.” But he was too late: as I walked to his office, I had made the decision that it was pointless to try to fit in. I would be the class clown for the next six years.

    I have thought about this event often. At the time my decision felt like a rational response based on my assessment of the new environment, but in retrospect I understood that I had been driven by anger at the power structure that suppressed my arguments.

    Now as I walked to the Dean’s office, another thought occurred to me. What if my teacher had been a brilliant theologian, equipped with two thousand years of well-articulated Christian thinking? She would have had more compelling arguments than an eleven-year-old. Would I have then been satisfied? I suspect not. As a scientist, with an allegiance to scientific thinking, I would have had a deep-seated feeling that I was being, as Rosie would say, bullshitted. Was that how Faith Healer had felt?

    Had the flounder demonstration been an instance of bullying as heinous as the one committed by my religious education teacher, even though I was right?

    As we entered the Dean’s office for what I expected to be the last time, I took notice of her full name on the door, and a minor confusion was resolved. Professor Charlotte Lawrence. I had never thought of her as “Charlie,” but presumably Simon Lefebvre did.

    We entered her office and sat down. “I see we’re in our job interview clothes,” she said. “I’m sorry you didn’t see fit to grace us with them during your time here.”

    I did not respond.

    “So. No report. No explanation?”

    Again, I could not think of anything appropriate to say.

    Simon Lefebvre appeared at the door. Obviously this had been planned. The Dean—Charlie—waved him in.

    “You can save time by explaining to Simon and me together.”

    Lefebvre was carrying the documents that I had given him.

    At that point, the Dean’s personal assistant, Regina, who is not objectified by having the words “The Beautiful” included in her name, entered the room.

    “Sorry to bother you, Professor,” she said, ambiguously, as we were all professors, for the next few minutes at least, but the context made it clear she was addressing the Dean. “I’ve got a problem with your booking at Le Gavroche. They seem to have taken you off the VIP list.”

    The Dean’s face registered annoyance, but she waved Regina away.

    Simon Lefebvre smiled at me. “You could’ve just sent me this,” he said, referring to the documents. “No need for the theatrical performance. Which I have to concede was beautifully done. As is the proposal. We’ll need to run it by the ethics guys, but it’s exactly what we’re looking for. Genetics and medicine, topic’s current, we’ll both get publicity.”

    I attempted to analyze the Dean’s expression. It was beyond my current skill set.

    “So congratulations, Charlie,” said Simon. “You’ve got your joint research project. The Medical Research Institute is prepared to put in four mil, which is more than the budget actually specifies, so you’re set to go.”

    I presumed he meant four million dollars.

    He pointed to me. “Hang on to this one, Charlie. He’s a dark horse. And I need him to be part of the project.”

    I got my first real return on my investment in improved social skills. I had worked out what was going on. I did not ask a silly question. I did not put the Dean in a position of untenable embarrassment where she might work against her own interests. I just nodded and walked back to my office.

    • • •

    Phil Jarman had blue eyes. I knew this but it was the first thing I noticed. He was in his midfifties, about ten centimeters taller than me, powerfully built, and extremely fit-looking. We were standing in front of the reception desk at Jarman’s Gym. On the wall were newspaper cuttings and photos of a younger Phil playing football. If I had been a medical student without advanced martial arts skills, I would have thought carefully before having sex with this man’s girlfriend. Perhaps this was the simple reason that Phil had never been informed of the identity of Rosie’s father.

    “Get the prof some gear and get his signature on a waiver form.”

    The woman behind the counter seemed puzzled.

    “It’s just an assessment.”

    “New procedure starts today,” said Phil.

    “I don’t require an assessment,” I began, but Phil seemed to have fixed ideas.

    “You booked one,” he said. “Sixty-five bucks. Let’s get you some boxing gloves.”

    I wondered if he realized that he had called me “prof.” Presumably Rosie had been right, and he had seen the dancing picture. I had not bothered to disguise my name. But at least I knew that he knew who I was. Did he know that I knew that he knew who I was? I was getting quite good at social subtleties.

    I changed into a T-shirt and shorts, which smelled freshly laundered, and we put on boxing gloves. I had only done the occasional boxing workout, but I was not afraid of getting hurt. I had good defensive techniques if necessary. I was more interested in talking.

    “Let’s see you hit me,” said Phil.

    I threw some gentle punches, which Phil blocked.

    “Come on,” he said. “Try to hurt me.”

    He asked for it.

    “Your stepdaughter is trying to locate her real father because she’s dissatisfied with you.”

    Phil dropped his guard. Very poor form. I could have landed a punch unimpeded if we were in a real bout.

    “Stepdaughter?” he said. “That’s what she’s calling herself? That’s why you’re here?”

    He threw a hard punch and I had to use a proper block to avoid being hit. He recognized it and tried a hook. I blocked that too and counterpunched. He avoided it nicely.

    “Since it’s unlikely she’ll succeed, we need to fix the problem with you.”

    Phil threw a straight hard one at my head. I blocked and stepped away.

    “With me?” he said. “With Phil Jarman? Who built his own business from nothing, who bench-presses a hundred and forty-five kilos, who plenty of women still think is a better deal than some doctor or lawyer. Or egghead.”

    He threw a combination and I attacked back. I thought there was a high probability that I could take him down, but I needed to continue the conversation.

    “It’s none of your business, but I was on the school council, coached the senior football team—”

    “Obviously these achievements were insufficient,” I said. “Perhaps Rosie requires something in addition to personal excellence.” In a moment of clarity, I realized what that something might be in my own case. Was all my work in self-improvement in vain? Was I going to end up like Phil, trying to win Rosie’s love but regarded with contempt?

    Fighting and contemplation are not compatible. Phil’s punch took me in the solar plexus. I managed to step back and reduce the force but went down. Phil stood over me, angry.

    “Maybe one day she’ll know everything. Maybe that’ll help, maybe it won’t.” He shook his head hard, as though he were the one who had taken a punch. “Did I ever call myself her stepfather? Ask her that. I’ve got no other children, no wife. I did all the things—I read to her, got up in the night, took her horse riding. After her mother was gone, I couldn’t do a thing right.”

    I sat up and shouted. I was angry too. “You failed to take her to Disneyland. You lied to her.”

    I scissored his legs, bringing him down. As a result of falling incompetently, he hit the floor hard. We struggled and I pinned him. His nose was bleeding badly and there was blood all over my shirt.

    “Disneyland!” said Phil. “She was ten!”

    “She told everyone at school. It’s still a major problem.”

    He tried to break free, but I managed to hold him, despite the impediment of the boxing gloves.

    “You want to know when I told her I’d take her to Disneyland? One time. Once. You know when? At her mother’s funeral. I was in a wheelchair. I was in rehab for eight months.”

    It was a very reasonable explanation. I wished Rosie had provided this background information prior to my holding her stepfather’s head on the floor with blood pouring from his nose. I explained to Phil that at my sister’s funeral I made an irrational promise to donate to a hospice when the money would have been better applied to research. He seemed to understand.

    “I bought her a jewelry box. She’d been on her mother’s case forever to buy it. I thought she’d forgotten about Disneyland when I came out of rehab.”

    “Predicting the impact of actions on other people is difficult.”

    “Amen to that,” said Phil. “Can we get up?”

    His nose was still bleeding and was probably broken, so it was a reasonable request. But I was not prepared to let him go yet.

    “Not until we solve the problem.”

    • • •

    It had been a very full day but the most critical task was still ahead. I examined myself in the mirror. The new glasses, vastly lighter, and the revised hair shape made a bigger difference than the clothes.

    I put the important envelope in my jacket pocket and the small box in my pants pocket. As I phoned for a taxi, I looked at my whiteboard. The schedule, now written in erasable marker, was a sea of red writing—my code for the Rosie Project. I told myself that the changes it had produced were worthwhile, even if tonight I failed to achieve the final objective.
     
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    thirty-three
    The taxi arrived and we made an intermediate stop at the flower shop. I had not been inside this shop—or indeed purchased flowers at all—since I stopped visiting Daphne. Daphne for Daphne; obviously the appropriate choice for this evening was roses. The vendor recognized me and I informed her of Daphne’s death. After I purchased a dozen long-stemmed red roses, consistent with standard romantic behavior, she snipped a small quantity of daphne and inserted it in the buttonhole of my jacket. The smell brought back memories of Daphne. I wished she was alive to meet Rosie.

    I tried to phone Rosie as the taxi approached her apartment building, but there was no answer. She was not outside when we arrived, and most of the bell buttons did not have names beside them. There was a risk that she had chosen not to accept my invitation.

    It was cold and I was shaking. I waited a full ten minutes, then called again. There was still no answer and I was about to instruct the driver to leave when she came running out. I reminded myself that it was I who had changed, not Rosie: I should have expected her to be late. She was wearing the black dress that had stunned me on the night of the Jacket Incident. I gave her the roses. I read her expression as surprised.

    Then she looked at me.

    “You look different . . . really different . . . again,” she said. “What happened?”

    “I decided to reform myself.” I liked the sound of the word: re-form. We got in the taxi, Rosie still holding the roses, and traveled the short distance to the restaurant in silence. I was looking for information about her attitude toward me and thought it best to let her speak first. In fact she didn’t say anything until she noticed that the taxi was stopping outside Le Gavroche—the scene of the Jacket Incident.

    “Don, is this a joke?”

    I paid the driver, exited the taxi, and opened Rosie’s door. She stepped out but was reluctant to proceed, clutching the roses to her chest with both hands. I put one hand behind her and guided her toward the door, where the maître d’ whom we had encountered on our previous visit was standing in his uniform. Jacket Man.

    He recognized Rosie instantly, as evidenced by his greeting. “Rosie.”

    Then he looked at me. “Sir?”

    “Good evening.” I took the flowers from Rosie and gave them to the maître d’. “We have a reservation in the name of Tillman. Would you be kind enough to look after these?” It was a standard formula but very confidence-boosting. Everyone seemed very comfortable now that we were behaving in a predictable manner. The maître d’ checked the reservation list. I took the opportunity to smooth over any remaining difficulties and made a small prepared joke.

    “My apologies for the misunderstanding last time. There shouldn’t be any difficulties tonight. Unless they overchill the white Burgundy.” I smiled.

    A male waiter appeared, the maître d’ introduced me, briefly complimenting me on my jacket, and we were led into the dining room and to our table. It was all very straightforward.

    I ordered a bottle of Chablis. Rosie still seemed to be adjusting.

    The sommelier appeared with the wine. He was looking around the room, as if for support. I diagnosed nervousness.

    “It’s at thirteen degrees, but if, sir would like it less chilled . . . or more chilled . . .”

    “That will be fine, thank you.”

    He poured me a taste and I swirled, sniffed, and nodded approval according to the standard protocol. Meanwhile, the waiter who had led us to the table reappeared. He was about forty, BMI approximately twenty-two, quite tall.

    “Professor Tillman?” he said. “My name’s Nick and I’m the headwaiter. If there’s anything you need, or anything that’s a problem, just ask for me.”

    “Much appreciated, Nick.”

    Waiters introducing themselves by name was more in the American tradition than a local custom. Either this restaurant deliberately chose the practice as a point of difference, or we were being given unusually personal treatment. I guessed the latter: I was probably marked as a dangerous person. Good. I would need all the support I could get tonight.

    Nick handed us menus.

    “I’m happy to leave it to the chef,” I said. “But no meat, and seafood only if it’s sustainable.”

    Nick smiled. “I’ll speak to the chef and see what he can do.”

    “I realize it’s a little tricky, but my friend lives by some quite strict rules,” I said.

    Rosie gave me a very strange look. My statement was intended to make a small point, and I think it succeeded. She tried her Chablis and buttered a bread roll. I remained silent.

    Finally she spoke.

    “All right, Gregory Peck. What are we doing first? The My Fair Lady story or the big revelation?”

    This was good. Rosie was prepared to discuss things directly. In fact, directness had always been one of Rosie’s positive attributes, though on this occasion she had not identified the most important topic.

    “I’m in your hands,” I said. Standard polite method for avoiding a choice and empowering the other person.

    “Don, stop it. You know who my father is, right? It’s Table-Napkin Man, isn’t it?”

    “Possibly,” I said, truthfully. Despite the positive outcome of the meeting with the Dean, I did not have my lab key back. “That isn’t what I want to share.”

    “All right, then. Here’s the plan. You share your thing; tell me who my father is; tell me what you’ve done to yourself; we both go home.”

    I couldn’t put a name to her tone of speech and expression, but it was clearly negative. She took another sip of her wine.

    “Sorry.” She looked a little apologetic. “Go. The sharing thing.”

    I had grave doubts about the likely efficacy of my next move, but there was no contingency plan. I had sourced my speech from When Harry Met Sally. It resonated best with me and with the situation and had the additional advantage of the link to our happy time in New York. I hoped Rosie’s brain would make that connection, ideally subconsciously. I drank the remainder of my wine. Rosie’s eyes followed my glass, then she looked up at me.

    “Are you okay, Don?”

    “I asked you here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

    I studied Rosie’s expression carefully. I diagnosed stunned.

    “Oh my God,” said Rosie, confirming the diagnosis. I followed up while she was still receptive.

    “It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.”

    I could see that Rosie could not place the line from The Bridges of Madison County that had produced such a powerful emotional reaction on the plane. She looked confused.

    “Don, what are you . . . what have you done to yourself?”

    “I’ve made some changes.”

    “Big changes.”

    “Whatever behavioral modifications you require from me are a trivial price to pay for having you as my partner.”

    Rosie made a downward movement with her hand, which I could not interpret. Then she looked around the room and I followed her eyes. Everyone was watching. Nick had stopped partway to our table. I realized that in my intensity I had raised my voice. I didn’t care.

    “You are the world’s most perfect woman. All other women are irrelevant. Permanently. No Botox or implants will be required.”

    I heard someone clapping. It was a slim woman of about sixty sitting with another woman of approximately the same age.

    Rosie took a drink of her wine, then spoke in a very measured way. “Don, I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know who’s asking me—the old Don or Billy Crystal.”

    “There’s no old and new,” I said. “It’s just behavior. Social conventions. Glasses and haircut.”

    “I like you, Don,” said Rosie. “Okay? Forget what I said about outing my father. You’re probably right. I really really like you. I have fun with you. The best times. But you know I couldn’t eat lobster every Tuesday. Right?”

    “I’ve abandoned the Standardized Meal System. I’ve deleted thirty-eight percent of my weekly schedule, excluding sleep. I’ve thrown out my old T-shirts. I’ve eliminated all of the things you didn’t like. Further changes are possible.”

    “You changed yourself for me?”

    “Only my behavior.”

    Rosie was silent for a while, obviously processing the new information.

    “I need a minute to think,” she said. I automatically started the timer on my watch. Suddenly Rosie started laughing. I looked at her, understandably puzzled at this outburst in the middle of a critical life decision.

    “The watch,” she said. “I say ‘I need a minute’ and you start timing. Don is not dead.”

    I waited. I looked at my watch. When there were fifteen seconds left, I assessed that it was likely that she was about to say no. I had nothing to lose. I pulled the small box from my pocket and opened it to reveal the ring I had purchased. I wished I had not learned to read expressions, because I could read Rosie’s now and I knew the answer.

    “Don,” said Rosie. “This isn’t what you want me to say. But remember on the plane, when you said you were wired differently?”

    I nodded. I knew what the problem was. The fundamental, insurmountable problem of who I was. I had pushed it to the back of my mind since it had surfaced in the fight with Phil. Rosie didn’t need to explain. But she did.

    “That’s inside you. You can’t fake—sorry, start again. You can behave perfectly, but if the feeling’s not there inside . . . God, I feel so unreasonable.”

    “The answer is no?” I said, some small part of my brain hoping that for once my fallibility in reading social cues would work in my favor.

    “Don, you don’t feel love, do you?” said Rosie. “You can’t really love me.”

    “Gene diagnosed love.” I knew now that he had been wrong. I had watched thirteen romantic movies and felt nothing. That was not strictly true. I had felt suspense, curiosity, and amusement. But I had not for one moment felt engaged in the love between the protagonists. I had cried no tears for Meg Ryan or Meryl Streep or Deborah Kerr or Vivien Leigh or Julia Roberts.

    I could not lie about so important a matter. “According to your definition, no.”

    Rosie looked extremely unhappy. The evening had turned into a disaster.

    “I thought my behavior would make you happy, and instead it’s made you sad.”

    “I’m upset because you can’t love me. Okay?”

    This was worse! She wanted me to love her. And I was incapable.

    “Don,” she said, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

    I got up from the table and walked back to the entrance foyer, out of sight of Rosie and the other diners. Nick was there, talking to the maître d’. He saw me and came over.

    “Can I help you with anything?”

    “Unfortunately, there has been a disaster.”

    Nick looked worried, and I elaborated. “A personal disaster. There is no risk to other patrons. Would you prepare the bill, please?”

    “We haven’t served you anything,” said Nick. He looked at me closely for a few moments. “There’s no charge, sir. The Chablis is on us.” He offered me his hand and I shook it. “I think you gave it your best shot.”

    I looked up to see Gene and Claudia arriving. They were holding hands. I had not seen them do this for several years.

    “Don’t tell me we’re too late,” said Gene, jovially.

    I nodded, then looked back into the restaurant. Rosie was walking quickly toward us.

    “Don, what are you doing?” she said.

    “Leaving. You said we shouldn’t see each other again.”

    “Fuck,” she said, then looked at Gene and Claudia. “What are you doing here?”

    “We are summoned to a ‘thank-you and celebration,’ ” said Gene. “Happy birthday, Don.”

    He gave me a gift-wrapped package and put his arm around me in a hug. I recognized that this was probably the final step in the male-male advice protocol, indicating acceptance of the advice without damage to our friendship, and managed not to flinch but could not process the input any further. My brain was already overloaded.

    “It’s your birthday?” said Rosie.

    “Correct.”

    “I had to get Helena to look up your birth date,” said Gene, “but ‘celebration’ was a clue.”

    I normally do not treat birthdays differently from other days, but it had struck me as an appropriate occasion to commence a new direction.

    Claudia introduced herself to Rosie, adding, “I’m sorry, it seems we’ve come at a bad time.”

    Rosie turned to Gene. “A thank-you? Thank you? Shit. It wasn’t enough to set us up: you had to coach him. You had to turn him into you.”

    Claudia said, quietly, “Rosie, it wasn’t Gene’s—”

    Gene put a hand on Claudia’s shoulder and she stopped.

    “No, it wasn’t,” he said. “Who asked him to change? Who said that he’d be perfect for her if he was different?”

    Rosie was now looking very upset. All of my friends (except Dave the Baseball Fan) were fighting. This was terrible. I wanted to roll the story back to New York and make better decisions. But it was impossible. Nothing would change the fault in my brain that made me unacceptable.

    Gene hadn’t stopped. “Do you have any idea what he did for you? Take a look in his office sometime.” He was presumably referring to my schedule and the large number of Rosie Project activities.

    Rosie walked out of the restaurant.

    Gene turned to Claudia. “Sorry I interrupted you.”

    “Someone had to say it,” said Claudia. She looked at Rosie, who was already some distance down the street. “I think I coached the wrong person.”

    Gene and Claudia offered me a lift home, but I did not want to continue the conversation. I started walking, then accelerated to a jog. It made sense to get home before it rained. It also made sense to exercise hard and put the restaurant behind me as quickly as possible. The new shoes were workable, but the coat and tie were uncomfortable even on a cold night. I pulled off the jacket, the item that had made me temporarily acceptable in a world to which I did not belong, and threw it in a trash can. The tie followed. On an impulse I retrieved the daphne from the jacket and carried it in my hand for the remainder of the journey. There was rain in the air, and my face was wet as I reached the safety of my apartment.
     
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    thirty-four
    We had not finished the wine at the restaurant. I decided to compensate for the resulting alcohol deficit and poured a tumbler of tequila. I turned on the television screen and computer and fast-forwarded Casablanca for one last try. I watched as Humphrey Bogart’s character used beans as a metaphor for the relative unimportance in the wider world of his relationship with Ingrid Bergman’s character and chose logic and decency ahead of his selfish emotional desires. The quandary and resulting decision made for an engrossing film. But this was not what people cried about. They were in love and could never be together. I repeated this statement to myself, trying to force an emotional reaction. I couldn’t. I didn’t care. I had enough problems of my own.

    The doorbell buzzed, and I immediately thought Rosie, but when I pushed the CCTV button, it was Claudia’s face that appeared.

    “Don, are you okay?” she said. “Can we come up?”

    “It’s too late.”

    Claudia sounded panicked. “What have you done? Don?”

    “It’s ten thirty-one,” I said. “Too late for visitors.”

    “Are you okay?” said Claudia, again.

    “I’m fine. The experience has been highly useful. New social skills. And final resolution of the Wife Problem. Clear evidence that I’m incompatible with women.”

    Gene’s face appeared on the screen. “Don. Can we come up for a drink?”

    “Alcohol would be a bad idea.” I still had a half glass of tequila in my hand. I was telling a polite lie to avoid social contact. I turned off the intercom.

    The message light on my home phone was flashing. It was my parents and brother wishing me a happy birthday. I had already spoken to my mother two days earlier when she made her regular Sunday evening call. These past three weeks, I had been attempting to provide some news in return but had not mentioned Rosie. They were utilizing the speakerphone function and collectively sang the birthday song—or at least my mother did, strongly encouraging my other two relatives to participate.

    “Ring back if you’re home before ten thirty,” my mother said. It was 10:38, but I decided not to be pedantic.

    “It’s ten thirty-nine,” said my mother. “I’m surprised you rang back.” Clearly she had expected me to be pedantic, which was reasonable given my history, but she sounded pleased.

    “Hey,” said my brother. “Gary Parkinson’s sister saw you on Facebook. Who’s the redhead?”

    “Just a girl I was dating.”

    “Pull the other leg,” said my brother.

    The words had sounded strange to me too, but I had not been joking.

    “I’m not seeing her anymore.”

    “I thought you might say that.” He laughed.

    My mother interrupted. “Stop it, Trevor. Donald, you didn’t tell us you were seeing someone. You know you’re always welcome—”

    “Mum, he was putting you on,” said my brother.

    “I said,” said my mother, “that anytime you want to bring anyone to meet us, whoever she or he—”

    “Leave him alone, both of you,” said my father.

    There was a pause and some conversation in the background. Then my brother said, “Sorry, mate. I was just kidding. I know you think I’m some sort of redneck, but I’m okay with who you are. I’d hate you to get to this age and think I still had a problem with it.”

    So, to add to a momentous day, I corrected a misconception that my family had held for at least fifteen years and came out to them as straight.

    The conversations with Gene, Phil, and my family had been surprisingly therapeutic. I did not need to use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to know that I was feeling sad, but I was back from the edge of the pit. I would need to do some disciplined thinking in the near future to be certain of remaining safe, but for the moment I did not need to shut down the emotional part of my brain entirely. I wanted a little time to observe how I felt about recent events.

    It was cold and the rain was pouring, but my balcony was under shelter. I took a chair and my glass outside, then went back inside, put on the natural wool sweater that my mother had knitted for a much earlier birthday, and collected the tequila bottle.

    I was forty years old. My father used to play a song written by John Sebastian. I remember that it was by John Sebastian because Noddy Holder announced prior to singing it, “We’re going to do a song by John Sebastian. Are there any John Sebastian fans here?” Apparently there were, because there was loud and raucous applause before he started singing.

    I decided that tonight I was also a John Sebastian fan and that I wanted to hear the song. This was the first time in my life that I could recall a desire to hear a particular piece of music. I had the technology. Or used to. I went to pull out my mobile phone and realized it had been in the jacket I had discarded. I went inside, booted my laptop, registered for iTunes, and downloaded “Darling Be Home Soon” from Slade Alive!, 1972. I added “Satisfaction,” thus doubling the size of my popular music collection. I retrieved my earphones from their box and returned to the balcony, poured another tequila, and listened to a voice from my childhood singing that it had taken a quarter of his life before he could begin to see himself.

    At eighteen, just before I left home to go to university, statistically approaching a quarter of my life, I had listened to these words and been reminded that I had very little understanding of who I was. It had taken me until tonight, approximately halfway, to see myself reasonably clearly. I had Rosie, and the Rosie Project, to thank for that. Now it was over, what had I learned?

    1. I need not be visibly odd. I could engage in the protocols that others followed and move undetected among them. And how could I be sure that other people were not doing the same—playing the game to be accepted but suspecting all the time that they were different?

    2. I had skills that others didn’t. My memory and ability to focus had given me an advantage in baseball statistics,cocktail making, and genetics. People had valued these skills, not mocked them.

    3. I could enjoy friendship and good times. It was my lack of skills, not lack of motivation, that had held me back. Now I was competent enough socially to open my life to a wider range of people. I could have more friends. Dave the Baseball Fan could be the first of many.

    4. I had told Gene and Claudia that I was incompatible with women. This was an exaggeration. I could enjoy their company, as proven by my joint activities with Rosie and Daphne. Realistically, it was possible that I could have a partnership with a woman.

    5. The idea behind the Wife Project was still sound. In many cultures a matchmaker would routinely have done what I did, with less technology, reach, and rigor, but the same assumption—that compatibility was as viable a foundation for marriage as love.

    6. I was not wired to feel love. And faking it was not acceptable. Not to me. I had feared that Rosie would not love me. Instead, it was I who could not love Rosie.

    7. I had a great deal of valuable knowledge—about genetics, computers, aikido, karate, hardware, chess, wine, cocktails, dancing, sexual positions, social protocols, and the probability of a fifty-six-game hitting streak occurring in the history of baseball. I knew so much shit and I still couldn’t fix myself.

    As the shuffle setting on my media player selected the same two songs over and over, I realized that my thinking was also beginning to go in circles and that, despite the tidy formulation, there was some flaw in my logic. I decided it was my unhappiness with the night’s outcome breaking through, my wish that it could be different.

    I watched the rain falling over the city and poured the last of the tequila.
     
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    thirty-five
    I was still in the chair when I woke the next morning. It was cold and raining and my laptop battery had exhausted itself. I shook my head to test for a hangover but it seemed that my alcohol-processing enzymes had done their job adequately. So had my brain. I had unconsciously set it a problem to solve and, understanding the importance of the situation, it had overcome the handicap of intoxication to reach a solution.

    I began the second half of my life by making coffee. Then I reviewed the very simple logic.

    1. I was wired differently. One of the characteristics of my wiring was that I had difficulty empathizing. This problem has been well documented in others and is, in fact, one of the defining symptoms of the autism spectrum.

    2. A lack of empathy would account for my inability to respond emotionally to the situations of fictional characters in films. This was similar to my inability to respond as others did to the victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. But I did feel sorry for Frank the firefighter guide. And for Daphne, my sister, my parents when my sister died, Carl and Eugenie because of the Gene-Claudia marriage crisis, Gene himself, who wanted to be admired but had achieved the opposite, Claudia, who had agreed to an open marriage but changed her mind and suffered as Gene continued to exploit it, Phil, who had struggled to deal with his wife’s infidelity and death and then to win the love of Rosie, Kevin Yu, whose focus on passing the course had blinded him to ethical conduct, the Dean, who had to make difficult decisions under contradictory rules and deal with prejudice about her dress and relationship, Faith Healer, who had to reconcile his strong beliefs with scientific evidence, Margaret Case, whose son had committed suicide and whose mind no longer functioned, and, critically, Rosie, whose childhood and now adulthood had been made unhappy by her mother’s death and her father problem and who now wanted me to love her. This was an impressive list, and though it did not include Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca, it was clear evidence that my empathy capability was not entirely absent.

    3. An inability (or reduced ability) to empathize is not the same as an inability to love. Love is a powerful feeling for another person, often defying logic.

    4. Rosie had failed numerous criteria on the Wife Project, including the critical smoking question. My feelings for hercould not be explained by logic. I did not care about Meryl Streep. But I was in love with Rosie.

    I had to act quickly, not because I believed the situation with Rosie was likely to change in the immediate future, but because I needed my jacket, which was, I hoped, still in the trash can where I had thrown it. Luckily I was already dressed from the previous evening.

    It was still raining when I arrived at the trash can, just in time to see it emptied into a garbage truck compactor. I had a contingency plan, but it was going to take time. I turned the bike around to head for home and crossed the road. Slumped in a shop doorway, out of the rain, was a homeless man. He was fast asleep, and he was wearing my jacket. I carefully reached into the inside pocket and extracted the envelope and my phone. As I remounted my bike, I saw a couple on the other side of the street watching me. The male started to run toward me, but the woman called him back. She was making a call on her cell phone.

    It was only 7:48 a.m. when I arrived at the university. A police car approached from the opposite direction, slowed as it passed me, then signaled a U-turn. It occurred to me that it could have been summoned to deal with my apparent theft from the homeless man. I turned quickly down the bicycle path, where I could not be followed by a motor vehicle, and headed toward the Genetics building to find a towel.

    As I opened the unlocked door of my office, it was obvious that I had had a visitor, and who that visitor had been. The red roses were lying on my desk. So was the Father Project file, which had been removed from its home in the filing cabinet. The list of father-candidate names and sample descriptions was on the desk beside it. Rosie had left a note.

    Don,

    I’m sorry about everything. But I know who Table-Napkin Man is. I’ve told Dad. I probably shouldn’t have but I was very upset. I tried to call you. Sorry again.

    Rosie.

    There was a lot of crossed-out writing between Sorry again and Rosie. But this was a disaster! I needed to warn Gene.

    His diary indicated a breakfast meeting at the University Club. I checked the PhD area, and Stefan was there but not Rosie. Stefan, who could see that I was highly agitated, followed me.

    We reached the club and located Gene at a table with the Dean. But at another table, I saw Rosie. She was with Claudia and seemed very distressed. I realized that she could be sharing the news about Gene, even prior to a DNA ratification. The Father Project was ending in total disaster. But I had come for something else. I was desperate to share my revelation. We could resolve the other problem later.

    I ran to Rosie’s table. I was still wet as a result of forgetting to dry myself. Rosie was obviously surprised to see me. I dispensed with formalities.

    “I’ve made an incredible mistake. I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid. Irrational!” Claudia made signals for me to stop, but I ignored them. “You failed almost every criterion of the Wife Project. Disorganized, mathematically illiterate, ridiculous food requirements. Incredible. I considered sharing my life with a smoker. Permanently!”

    Rosie’s expression was complex but appeared to include sadness, anger, and surprise. “It didn’t take you long to change your mind,” she said.

    Claudia was frantically waving at me to stop, but I was determined to proceed according to my own plan.

    “I haven’t changed my mind. That’s the point! I want to spend my life with you even though it’s totally irrational. And you have short earlobes. Socially and genetically there’s no reason for me to be attracted to you. The only logical conclusion is that I must be in love with you.”

    Claudia got up and pushed me into her chair.

    “You don’t give up, do you?” said Rosie.

    “I’m being annoying?”

    “No,” said Rosie. “You’re being incredibly brave. I have the best fun with you; you’re the smartest, funniest person I know; you’ve done all these things for me. It’s everything I want and I’ve been too scared to grab it because—”

    She stopped, but I knew what she was thinking. I finished her sentence for her.

    “Because I’m weird. Perfectly understandable. I’m familiar with the problem because everyone else seems weird to me.”

    Rosie laughed.

    I tried to explain.

    “Crying over fictitious characters, for example.”

    “Could you live with me crying in movies?” said Rosie.

    “Of course,” I said. “It’s conventional behavior.” I stopped as I realized what she had said.

    “You’re offering to live with me?”

    Rosie smiled.

    “You left this on the table,” she said, and pulled the ring container from her bag. I realized that Rosie had reversed her decision of the previous night and was in effect rolling back time to allow my original plan to proceed at an alternative location. I extracted the ring and she held out her finger. I put it on and it fitted. I felt a major sense of relief.

    I became aware of applause. It seemed natural. I had been living in the world of romantic comedy and this was the final scene. But it was real. The entire University Club dining room had been watching. I decided to complete the story according to tradition and kissed Rosie. It was even better than the previous occasion.

    “You’d better not let me down,” said Rosie. “I’m expecting constant craziness.”

    Phil walked in, his nose in a plaster cast, accompanied by the club manager. She was followed by two police. The manager pointed Gene out to Phil.

    “Oh shit,” said Rosie. Phil walked over to Gene, who stood up. There was a brief conversation and then Phil knocked him to the floor with a single punch to the jaw. The police rushed forward and restrained Phil, who did not resist. Claudia ran up to Gene, who was slowly rising. He appeared not to be seriously injured. Under the traditional rules of romantic behavior, it was correct for Phil to assault Gene, assuming he had in fact seduced Rosie’s mother when she was Phil’s girlfriend.

    However, it was not certain that Gene was the culprit. On the other hand, numerous men were probably entitled to punch Gene. In this sense, Phil was dispensing romantic justice on their behalf. Gene must have understood, because he appeared to be reassuring the police that everything was okay.

    I redirected my attention to Rosie. Now that my previous plan had been reinstated, it was important not to be distracted.

    “Item two on the agenda was your father’s identity.”

    Rosie smiled. “Back on track. Item one: Let’s get married. Okay, that’s settled. Item two: This is the Don I’ve grown to know and love.”

    The last word stopped me. I could only look at Rosie as I took in the reality of what she had said. I guessed she was doing the same, and it was several seconds before she spoke.

    “How many positions in that book can you do?”

    “The sex book? All of them.”

    “Bullshit.”

    “It was considerably less complex than the cocktail book.”

    “So let’s go home,” she said. “To my place. Or your place if you’ve still got the Atticus Finch outfit.” She laughed.

    “It’s in my office.”

    “Another time. Don’t throw it out.”

    We got up, but the police, one man and one woman, blocked our path.

    “Sir,” said the woman (age approximately twenty-eight, BMI twenty-three), “I’m going to have to ask you what’s in your pocket.”

    I had forgotten the envelope! I pulled it out and waved it in front of Rosie.

    “Tickets! Tickets to Disneyland. All problems solved!” I fanned out the three tickets, took Rosie’s hand, and we walked toward Phil to show him.
     
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    thirty-six
    We went to Disneyland—Rosie, Phil, and I. It was great fun and appeared to be a success in improving all relationships. Rosie and Phil shared information and I learned a lot about Rosie’s life. It was important background for the difficult but essential task of developing a high level of empathy for one person in the world.

    Rosie and I were on our way to New York, where being weird is acceptable. That is a simplification of the rationale: in reality what was important for me was to be able to make a new start with my new skills, new approach, and new partner, without being held back by others’ perceptions of me—perceptions that I had not only deserved but encouraged.

    Here in New York, I am working in the Department of Genetics at Columbia University, and Rosie is in the first year of the Doctor of Medicine program. I am contributing to Simon Lefebvre’s research project remotely, as he insisted on it as a condition of providing funding. I consider it a form of moral payback for using the university’s equipment for the Father Project.

    We have an apartment in Williamsburg, not far from the Eslers, whom we visit regularly. The Cellar Interrogation is now a story that Isaac and I tell on social occasions.

    We are considering reproducing (or, as I would say in a social encounter, “having children”). In order to prepare for this possibility, Rosie has ceased smoking, and we have reduced our alcohol intake. Fortunately we have numerous other activities to distract us from these addictive behaviors. Rosie and I work in a cocktail bar together three evenings a week. It is exhausting at times but social and fun, and it supplements my academic salary.

    We listen to music. I have revised my approach to Bach and am no longer trying to follow individual notes. The new approach is more successful, but my music tastes seem to have been locked in in my teens. As a result of my failing to make my own selections at that time, my preferences are those of my father. I can advance a well-reasoned argument that nothing worth listening to was recorded after 1972. Rosie and I have that argument frequently. I cook but reserve the meals of the Standardized Meal System for dinner parties.

    We are officially married. Although I had performed the romantic ritual with the ring, I did not expect Rosie, as a modern feminist, to want to actually get married. The term wife in Wife Project had always meant “female life partner.” But she decided that she should have “one relationship in my life that was what it was supposed to be.” That included monogamy and permanence. An excellent outcome.

    I am able to hug Rosie. This was the issue that caused me the most fear after she agreed to live with me. I generally find body contact unpleasant, but sex is an obvious exception. Sex solved the body contact problem. We are now also able to hug without having sex, which is obviously convenient at times.

    Once a week, in order to deal with the demands of living with another person, and to continue to improve my skills in this sphere, I spend an evening in therapy. This is a small joke: my “therapist” is Dave, and I provide reciprocal services to him. Dave is also married, and considering that I am supposedly wired differently, our challenges are surprisingly similar. He sometimes brings male friends and colleagues from work, where he is a refrigeration engineer. We are all Yankees fans.

    For some time, Rosie did not mention the Father Project. I attributed this to the improved relationship with Phil and the distraction of other activities. But in the background, I was processing some new information.

    At the wedding, Dr. Eamonn Hughes, the first person we had tested, had asked to speak to me privately.

    “There’s something you should know,” he said. “About Rosie’s father.”

    It seemed entirely plausible that Rosie’s mother’s closest friend from medical school would know who he was. Perhaps we had only needed to ask. But Eamonn was referring to something else. He pointed to Phil.

    “Phil’s been a bit of a screwup with Rosie.”

    So it wasn’t only Rosie who thought Phil was a poor parent.

    “You know about the car accident?”

    I nodded, although I had no detailed information. Rosie had made it clear that she did not want to discuss it.

    “Bernadette was driving because Phil had been drinking.”

    I had deduced that Phil was in the car.

    “Phil got out, with a broken pelvis, and pulled Rosie out.” Eamonn paused. He was obviously distressed. “He pulled Rosie out first.”

    This was truly an awful scenario, but as a geneticist my immediate thought was of course. Phil’s behavior, in pain and under extreme pressure, would surely have been instinctual. Such life-and-death situations occur regularly in the animal kingdom and Phil’s choice was in line with theory and experimental results. While he had presumably revisited that moment many times in his mind, and his later feelings toward Rosie may have been severely affected by it, his actions were consistent with the primitive drive to protect the carrier of his genes.

    It was only later that I realized my obvious error. As Rosie was not Phil’s biological daughter, such instincts would not have been applicable. I spent some time reflecting on the possible explanations for his behavior. I did not share my thoughts or the hypothesis I formed.

    When I was established at Columbia, I requested permission to use the DNA-testing facilities for a private investigation. They were willing to let me do so. It would not have been a problem if they had refused. I could have sent my remaining samples to a commercial laboratory and paid a few hundred dollars for the tests. This option had been available to Rosie from the beginning of the Father Project. It is now obvious to me that I did not alert Rosie to it because I was subconsciously interested in a relationship with her even then. Amazing!

    I did not tell Rosie about the test. One day I just packed my bag with the samples that I had brought with me to New York.

    I started with the paranoid plastic surgeon, Freyberg, who was the least likely candidate in my assessment. A green-eyed father was not impossible, but there was no other evidence making him more probable than any of the previous candidates. His reluctance to send me a blood sample was explained by his being a generally suspicious and unhelpful person. My prediction was correct.

    I loaded Esler’s specimen, a swab from a fork that had traveled more than halfway around the world and back again. In his darkened basement, I had been certain he was Rosie’s father. But afterward I had come to the conclusion that he could have been protecting a friend or the memory of a friend. I wondered if Esler’s decision to become a psychiatrist had been influenced by the suicide of the best man at his wedding, Geoffrey Case.

    I tested the sample. Isaac Esler was not Rosie’s father.

    I picked up Gene’s sample. My best friend. He was working hard on his marriage. The map had been removed from his wall when I went in to submit my resignation to the Dean. But I had no recollection of seeing a pin in Ireland, Rosie’s mother’s birthplace. There was no need to test the table napkin. I tossed it in the waste basket.

    I had now eliminated every candidate except Geoffrey Case. Isaac Esler had told me that he knew who Rosie’s father was and that he was sworn to secrecy. Did Rosie’s mother—and Esler—not want Rosie to know that there was a family history of suicide? Or perhaps a genetic predisposition to mental illness? Or that Geoffrey Case had possibly killed himself in the wake of the news that he was Rosie’s father and that her mother had decided to remain with Phil? These were all good reasons—good enough that I considered it highly likely that Rosie’s mother’s one-night encounter had been with Geoffrey Case.

    I reached into my bag and pulled out the DNA sample that fate had delivered to me without Rosie’s knowledge. I was now almost certain that it would confirm my hypothesis as to her paternity.

    I cut a small portion of the cloth, poured over the reagent, and let it sit for a few minutes. As I watched the fabric in the clear solution and mentally reviewed the Father Project, I became more and more confident in my prediction. I decided that Rosie should join me for this result, regardless of whether I was right or wrong. I texted her. She was on campus and arrived a few minutes later. She immediately realized what I was doing.

    I put the processed sample in the machine and waited while the analysis proceeded. We watched the computer screen together until the result came up. After all the blood collecting, cheek swabbing, cocktail shaking, wall climbing, glass collecting, flying, driving, proposal writing, urine mopping, cup stealing, fork wiping, tissue retrieving, toothbrush stealing, hairbrush cleaning, and tear wiping, we had a match.

    Rosie had wanted to know who her biological father was. Her mother had wanted the identity of the man she had sex with, perhaps only once, on an occasion of emotion-driven rule breaking, to remain a secret forever. I could now fulfill both of their wishes.

    I showed her the remains of the blood-stained shirt from Jarman’s Gym with the sample square cut out of it. There would be no need to test the handkerchief that had wiped Margaret Case’s tears.

    Ultimately, the entire father problem was caused by Gene. He almost certainly taught the medical students an oversimplified model of the inheritance of common traits. If Rosie’s mother had known that eye color was not a reliable indicator of paternity and organized a DNA test to confirm her suspicions, there would have been no Father Project, no Great Cocktail Night, no New York Adventure, no Reform Don Project—and no Rosie Project. Had it not been for this unscheduled series of events, her daughter and I would not have fallen in love. And I would still be eating lobster every Tuesday night.

    Incredible.
     
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    acknowledgments
    The Rosie Project was written quickly. I poked my head up for just long enough to consult with my writer wife, Anne; daughter Dominique; and my novel-writing class at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), led by Michelle Aung Thin.

    After being adopted by Text Publishing, the manuscript benefited enormously from the attentions of my editor, Alison Arnold, who understood exactly what I was aiming for, and the passionate support of Michael Heyward and his team, in particular Jane Novak, Kirsty Wilson, Chong Weng Ho, and Michelle Calligaro. Anne Beilby’s efforts in bringing Rosie to the attention of international publishers have ensured that Don and Rosie’s story will be told in more than thirty-five languages, and Karyn Marcus of Simon & Schuster has been meticulous in editing the American version.

    But the underlying story has a longer pedigree. It began as a screenplay, developed during screenwriting studies at RMIT. Anne, my son Daniel, and I workshopped the original plot during a walk in New Zealand. A workup for the characters was published as “The Klara Project: Phase 1” in The Envelope Please in 2007, and I completed the first draft of the screenplay, with a different plot and a nerdy Hungarian Klara instead of Rosie, in 2008, having taken some time to decide that it was a comedy rather than a drama. The story changed significantly over five years, very much for the better, and for that I have to thank the many people who encouraged, criticized, and pushed me not to be satisfied with what I had.

    The faculty at RMIT taught me the principles of storytelling, as well as offering specific advice on the script. Special mentions are due to Clare Renner, Head of School; Tim Ferguson, comedy legend; David Rapsey and Ian Pringle, seasoned film producers who did not stint on the tough love; and Boris Trbic, who gave me an appreciation for the screwball comedy. Cary Grant would have made a perfect Don. Jo Moylan was my writing buddy through a year of the most radical changes. Making short films with the audiovisual students, under the leadership of Rowan Humphrey and Simon Embury, taught me much about what worked and what didn’t. As I watched my extraneous dialogue hit the digital equivalent of the cutting-room floor, I learned a lot about writing economically. Kim Krejus of 16th Street Actors Studio organized talented actors for an enlightening reading.

    I am fortunate to belong to a talented and hardworking writers’ group: Irina Goundortseva, Steve Mitchell, Susannah Petty, and May Yeung. Rosie was regularly on the agenda, and Irina’s enthusiasm for the short story was instrumental in my taking itfurther. Later, Heidi Winnen was the first person outside my family to suggest that the novel might have potential.

    The script benefited from the astute feedback of screenwriting gurus Steve Kaplan and Michael Hauge. Their involvement was in turn made possible by by the Australian Writers Guild, which, in conjunction with Inscription, offered a prize for romantic comedy writing in 2010. Producers Peter Lee and Ros Walker and director John Paul Fischbach also offered valuable criticism.

    The path to publication began when The Rosie Project won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2012, and I acknowledge the Victorian State Government and the Wheeler Centre for sponsoring and administering the award. I also thank the judges, Nick Gadd, Peter Mews, Zoe Dattner, and Roderick Poole, for their brave choice.

    Many other people have supported Rosie and me on the six-year journey from concept to published novel, notably Jon Backhouse, Rebecca Carter, Cameron Clarke, Sara Cullen, Fran Cusworth, Barbara Gliddon, Amanda Golding, Vin Hedger, Kate Hicks, Amy Jasper, Noel Maloney, Brian McKenzie, Steve Melnikoff, Ben Michael, Helen O’Connell, Rebecca Peniston-Bird, April Reeve, John Reeves, Sue and Chris Waddell, Geri and Pete Walsh, and my fellow students at RMIT.

    Don’s lobster salad is based on a recipe from Teage Ezard’s Contemporary Australian Food. Perfect for a romantic evening on a balcony with a bottle of Drappier rosé champagne.
     
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    Simon & Schuster Reading Group Guide

    The Rosie Project

    by Graeme Simsion

    Introduction

    Professor of genetics Don Tillman’s life is turned upside down when he embarks upon the Wife Project in order to find a suitable mate despite his quirky habits and demanding personality. When a psychology PhD student named Rosie walks into his office, she’s all wrong—her hair is dyed, her clothes are sloppy, she smokes, and she is habitually late. But then again, something is right about her . . . Don just can’t recognize it at first. As the Wife Project takes a back burner to Rosie’s project of identifying her biological father, Don finds himself breaking all kinds of rules and his routines in ways that are both uncomfortable and exciting. When a research trip takes them from Australia to New York City, and Don’s career is threatened by his allegiance to Rosie, Don must face the toughest puzzle of all—himself. In the end, Don must confront his long-held notions of what it means to love and connect with people and what it truly means to open up and trust someone.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Does Don’s Asperger’s help him or hinder him? Does it offer any advantages?

    2. Don goes through a number of spectacularly bad dates. What have been some of your own dating nightmares?

    3. Where do you fall on the spectrum between structure and chaos? Are you highly rigid in your routines or very relaxed?

    4. Do you agree with Don’s assessment: “Humans often fail to see what is close to them and obvious to others”?

    5. What do you think of Gene and Claudia’s relationship? Do you know anyone in an open marriage? Do you think it can work?

    6. Don says that the happiest day of his life was spent at the American Museum of Natural History. Do you have a happiest day of your life? Or is there a special place where you are happiest?

    7. As Don’s affection for Rosie grows, he becomes aware of his instincts overriding reason. What is the role of instinct versus reason when it comes to choosing a life partner?

    8. Do you know anyone on the autism spectrum?

    9. Don watches a number of movies to try to learn about romance, including When Harry Met Sally, The Bridges of Madison County, An Affair to Remember, and Hitch. What are your top five romantic movies?

    10. Have you ever broken out of your usual routine and opened up in a significant way? Or has someone broken through your routine for you?

    11. Is it smart to have a list of criteria for a potential partner or is it limiting?

    12. Don gets in trouble with the dean for using the genetics lab for his personal project with Rosie. Is it ever okay to break the rules in order to help someone?

    13. Do you feel happy for Don when he eliminates a “number of unconventional mannerisms” in order to win Rosie, or has he lost something?

    14. Does Gene get his comeuppance?

    15. Were you surprised at the ultimate revelation of Rosie’s biological father? Did you suspect someone else?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Make your own questionnaire for a potential mate. Put together ten questions and rank them in order of importance.

    2. Look at the website for Autism Speaks (

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    Plan a walk or join another event. Seehttp://

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    3. Cook Don’s balcony meal: lobster, mango, and avocado salad with wasabi-coated flying fish roe and crispy seaweed and deep-fried leek garnish.

    Don’s actual recipe is from Contemporary Australian Food by Teage Ezard (Hardie Grant Books). For similar recipes, see:

    Lobster:

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    Mango and avocado salad:

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    Flying fish roe:

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    Leeks:

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    4. Take a ballroom dancing class and see if you can be as good as Bianca.

    5. Take the Aspie-Quiz at

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    A Conversation with Graeme Simsion

    1. Do you know any people with autism?

    I did a physics degree, worked for thirty years in information technology, and taught at several universities. In these areas, technical skills are given more weight than social skills. So I met many people who I’m sure would have been diagnosed as being on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrumhad that diagnosis been common when they were younger. And I know a number of people with kids who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s or autism.

    2. Was any one specific your inspiration for Don?

    People I worked with and taught. There are plenty of Dons out there. One close friend struggled for many years to find a partner, and he provided inspiration for my first version of the story but the character and story have changed a lot since then. There is no “real Don”!

    3. Do you love the American Museum of Natural History as much as Don does?

    Not that much! But it’s one of my favorite places in New York.

    4. Do you have any idiosyncratic deal breakers like Don’s with ice cream preference?

    I don’t think so, but I’ve been married for twenty-four years, so I don’t have a lot of recent dating experience. I really don’t like smoking, but I dated a smoker for some time when I was younger. Back in those days, if I was really attracted to someone, I’d make a lot of concessions. Perhaps less so now.

    5.What’s your BMI?

    It’s 22.5. I ran a marathon in 2010 and it was quite a bit less then—and even less after I ended up in hospital for a week. The story is at

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    6. Don is a bit of a foodie. You founded Pinot Now and have eaten at elBulli. Can you talk about the role of food and wine in your life?

    I’m also a bit of a foodie and a wine lover. I cook a lot, and put quite a bit of effort into meals. I actually do jog to the local market, though not on as regular a schedule as Don.

    Cooking is a good opportunity for thinking (as it is for Don), and I enjoy the results. My wife and I drink a lot of wine—probably too much—and treat our travel as an opportunity to try restaurants and local produce. It’s a balance to the more intellectual business of writing.

    7. How did you develop and dive into Don’s voice?

    I channeled a close friend who has a background in information technology—a very technical background. In the early drafts I could hear his voice, but over time Don developed his own mannerisms. I borrowed habits like “greetings” and expressions like “human sponge mode” from other colleagues and friends.

    8. Do you feel that this is a story of triumph for Don?

    Absolutely. Don is the hero of the story in all senses. He sets out to do something that is a huge stretch and overcomes obstacles and his own limitations to achieve it—along the way learning some lessons about what he really needs. And he does this in a fundamentally decent way.

    9. You have a background in data modeling. What is that exactly, and did your experience with it contribute to your portrait of Don and his Wife Project?

    It’s basically the job of specifying a database—describing in precise technical language what data is to be held and how it is to be represented. A bit like an architect describing to a builder exactly what needs to be built, after helping the client express his or her requirements and proposing a design. The discipline itself doesn’t feature in the book, but some of the people I met in the field—precise, highly organized people—contributed to my characterization of Don.

    10. You also write, produce, and act in films. How is the process of writing for film different from writing a novel?

    Well, the acting was only one time! But I’ve produced numerous short films and in fact wrote The Rosie Project as a screenplay before adapting it into a novel. In screenwriting, at least for mainstream films, there is a strong emphasis on story—and story structure. It’s more formulaic than a novel, but it’s also a good discipline. In a romantic comedy you have only about one hundred minutes, so you have to make every scene count. You see it in Rosie: it’s structured as a romantic comedy and reads as a series of scenes. And it moves along pretty quickly.

    In a novel, you have the opportunity to describe the character’s thought processes—and in The Rosie Project that’s an important tool for comedy. On the screen you can use physical action and timing—which are not directly available to you on the page.

    11. You own a Porsche, have flown a Cessna solo, and walked the Camino de Santiago. Is adventure something you seek out in life?

    I’m not a physical thrillseeker, but I enjoy challenges and achievement, and am very conscious that we only get one life. My wife drives the Porsche—most of the time I take the tram.
     

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