The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion
Monday, May 27, 2019 at 7:04AM
TChris in Australia, General Fiction, Graeme Simsion

Published in Australia by Text Publishing on May 28, 2019

The Rosie Result takes place about ten years after The Rosie Effect. Don Tillman is content, as is Rosie. They have a healthy and happy child named Hudson. At least, he’s happy until Rosie is offered a job in Australia that she wants to accept. Hudson does not accept changes in routine any more readily than Don. In fact, Hudson is sort of a Don Jr. in his lack of social skills, his love of predictable schedules, and his preference for math to sports. Child-raising not being a skill that comes naturally to Don, it is time to embark on a new project: the Hudson Project.

Don is the same quirky character readers loved in the earlier novels. He refers to a stroller as a “baby vehicle.” He has little tact, although he has generally learned to recognize  and avoid potentially tactless statements.

Don has little difficulty finding a position as a professor of genetics in Melbourne. His tactlessness causes an uproar when he chooses an arguably insensitive exercise to convey a lesson about genetics and race to his students, a professional stumble that is heightened by a student’s decision to broadcast it on Twitter. The video is taken out of context, but no university wants to be seen as employing a racist.

When a colleague suggests that he might gain some protection by being diagnosed with autism (making his social blunders more acceptable in the world of academic politics), Don has understandable reservations about playing a disability card. He resists being labeled as autistic despite his secret fear that the label might be accurate.

And then there’s the elementary school that is trying to pin the same label on Hudson. Given that Don’s greatest skill is problem solving, he embarks on an effort to help Hudson gain the acceptance of school administrators and classmates. He also wants to maximize Rosie’s career options and to solve his friend Dave’s obesity and marital problems by reprising a career that he developed in one of the earlier novels.

The Rosie Result is quite different from the first Rosie books, but quite wonderful in its own way. The first book was hilarious in its portrayal of two completely different individuals who fall in love and make it work. The second book features humor in a similar vein with the addition of a pregnancy. By the third novel, the reader knows what to expect from Don, whose insistent embrace of reason over emotion drives the humor in the first two books. The Rosie Result has many light moments, but the story tackles autism more directly than the first two novels and does so in a serious way.

The novel presents a stark contrast between two competing perspectives on children with autism, or if you prefer, autistic children. Those who use the phrase “children with autism” believe the children have a disorder that needs to be treated, but the disorder should not define the children. Those who say “autistic children” believe that autistic behavior is a defining charateristic of who they are, and other people should either accept them or learn to deal with them. Don approaches the issue from the standpoint of rationality, as should everyone. But the most revealing perspectives come not from Don and Rosie, or from the psychologists and teachers and advocates who express their views, but from kids (including Hudson) who resist being defined by others and who demonstrate that stereotypes about autism — the autistic have no empathy, the autistic are dangerous, the autistic can’t make friends, the autistic don’t understand humor — reveal the limits of people who think in terms of labels and stereotypes rather than looking at each child as an individual.

For all of that, The Rosie Result is a warm-hearted novel. The Rosie Project works because Don overcomes limitations imposed by his character traits and grows as a person, and because Rosie sees past those character traits and accepts Don for the person he is. The Rosie Result works because Don learns to become comfortable with character traits that are not “neurotypical,” demonstrating a different kind of growth. And he come to accept that not all problems can be solved, at least when the problems involve people. Sometimes you just have to “muddle through” (although muddling through, according to Don’s research, is also a problem-solving technique).

All three novels use humor to encourage the reader to like and accept Don because he is a good person, even if he doesn’t respond to situations requiring human interaction in the way that “neurotypical” people expect. By focusing on their autistic child, The Rosie Result drives home the need to accept people like Don wiith more substance than the first two novels, but does so without sacrificing the sweetness that makes the first two novels succeed.

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