Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.
Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
I feel like this is one of those books that would’ve been a risk at acquisitions time – you don’t know if it’s going to sell well or not sell at all. And then, of course, the book actually becomes a phenomenon and receives rave reviews.
This novel is funny, but not necessarily a laugh-out-loud funny. It’s more a quiet chuckle or an amused smile. This isn’t a bad thing – Graeme has written the main character Don Tillman so believably that you’re not actually chuckling at him, but at the absurd things that he does. Like creating a survey for women to fill out, and they have to answer every question correct for Don to consider them a candidate for the Wife Project. Don has Asperger’s syndrome, but he doesn’t know it. But the reader is aware of it from the very first page – Graeme has captured his schedule and his personality and his subjective perspective perfectly.
Don is an unusual protagonist, but I really like him. I like that he evolves over the course of the novel – he seems to forget about his routine, and in his own way, goes after Rosie. The love story between Don and Rosie is behind-the-scenes, and doesn’t actually feel like a love story. Don is not the typical brooding lead male in the story, and doesn’t attempt to whisk Rosie off her feet. In fact, he’d probably argue that whisking someone of their feet is impossible, a cliché, and too vague to actually achieve.
Despite Don being extremely intelligent, he also possess a certain level of naivety. And although this probably comes from him having Asperger’s Syndrome, it is also a writing achievement.