It’s pretty common to hear people complain about the impact TV has on society. It ruins young minds. It contributes to obesity. It shortens attention spans. But while there’s plenty of talk about how bad television is for humans, no one ever talks about the influence it has on books. Exhibit A: "The Rosie Effect" by Graeme Simsion, which is the sequel to his New York Times bestseller "The Rosie Project".
While I never read The Rosie Project, I didn’t feel at all confused or lost in the second book. It was like tuning into the second season of a TV sitcom. Give yourself a few minutes; you’ll be caught up by the first commercial break.
The lead character and narrator of the Rosie series is Don Tillman. He’s incredibly smart and analytic, but seriously lacking in social skills. Think Sheldon Cooper from "The Big Bang Theory". But while Sheldon is only awkwardly dating his love interest on TV, Don is happily married. And at the beginning of this book, Don gets the news that he’s about to become a father. For a mind like Don’s, the pregnancy can only mean trouble. He begins to take on the problem of fatherhood like an overzealous researcher, at one point even comically taking over a birthing class because he assumes he knows more than the teacher.
Reading the book, I couldn’t help but wonder if Simsion was consciously channeling television in the writing. Each chapter is like an episode on a sitcom, and the characters act and talk like they have a live studio audience in front of them. Most of the plot conflicts are generated through miscommunication or badly attempted misdirection. There is no art or surprise here for the literary buff, just the occasional giggle. And like a sitcom, sometimes you can’t help but wonder what the rest of the audience is laughing at.
While The Rosie Effect has a few fun moments, it left me with the same guilt I feel watching Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory". Like those TV show writers, Simsion want us to laugh at Don, to enjoy his confusion, struggles, and befuddlements that honestly might relate more to a social disability as compared to inexperience with the real world. This kind of comedy always leaves me feeling like a bully. And really, haven’t great minds like this been bullied enough?
In the end, it was hard for me to become absorbed by "The Rosie Effect". The plots and twists were too formulaic and unbelievable. And while Don acts like a genius, his narration and word choice seems dumbed down. I can’t imagine Sheldon writing a book this easy to digest. Maybe if I had read the first book I would have been more willing to go along with the madcap adventures. Sadly, "The Rosie Effect" left me wishing that I could just change the channel.
Scott Southard is the author of the new novel "Permanent Spring Showers" and "A Jane Austen Daydream". You can follow his writing via his blog "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.