THE ROSIE EFFECT, by Graeme Simsion. Simon & Schuster, 344 pp. $25.99.
Film rights to "The Rosie Project" -- Australian Graeme Simsion's witty 2013 best-seller about a clueless professor searching for a wife -- were snapped up by Sony Pictures even before the book's U.S. publication. For his encore, "The Rosie Effect," Simsion could easily have dished up flavorless seconds. Instead, he has written a romantic comedy that's as smart, funny and heartwarming as the original.
"The Rosie Project" was narrated by a socially awkward geneticist named Don Tillman, who fell in love with Rosie Jarman while helping her locate her biological father. In "The Rosie Effect," Don and Rosie are married and living in New York, where he's a professor and she's a medical student.
When Rosie announces she's pregnant, Don panics -- not that it takes much to disrupt his highly structured world. Diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, Don is discomfited by unpredictable and emotional situations, and pregnancy and parenthood have been known to create a few. To cope, he pivots into hyperefficient mode and launches what he calls The Baby Project. This involves creating a Standardized Meal System with optimum levels of gestational nutrition for his wife, custom designing the world's safest stroller (with baby-size helmet), and basically driving Rosie nuts.
Don's pals aren't much help in the fatherhood-prep department, either: Don's philandering best friend suggests he "watch some kids" to understand how they operate, touching off "The Playground Incident." In another questionable stab at understanding babies, he helps birth a calf.
As a reader, it's hard not to cheer for this well-meaning misfit. Yes, Don is better at interpreting statistics than human behavior, but he has a big heart and a frank way of looking at the world. When a woman compares him to Rain Man, the autistic savant in the 1988 movie, Don sees the logical flaw in her thinking: "A society of Rain Men would be dysfunctional. A society of Don Tillmans would be efficient, safe and pleasant for all of us."
A society of Don Tillmans would actually be unbearable. But a society with no Don Tillmans would be missing something special.