The Man I Should Have

by Pamela Redmond Satran
(Downtown Press, $13, PG-13) ISBN 1-4165-0558-X
Ouch! Pamela Redmond Satran really hits a nerve with her comic yet astute novel about a 44 year old divorced mom who has the opportunity to shave two decades off her life. While Satran’s observations about the generational differences are spot-on and her female characters well-conceived, the romance her heroine finds with a younger man strains credulity. Still, as a woman of the same age it was easy for me to identify with both the heroine’s fantasy and the reality she discovers.

  New Year’s Eve finds Alice Green looking back at a truly miserable year. Her husband left her for his dental hygienist, her daughter left her for the Peace Corps, and her attempts to re-enter the job market after a 20-year absence have been dismal failures. But a New Year’s makeover from her hip New York best friend, along with the realization that she’s lost a lot of weight from stress and compulsive workouts, push Alice through the looking glass. Without actually telling any lies, she starts letting people believe she is in her mid-twenties. She lands a job as a marketing assistant at the very publishing company where she briefly worked before motherhood, and starts a passionate affair with an adorable guy she impulsively kissed on New Year’s Eve.

  Alice thinks this charade will be her second chance to find happiness, but she learns that times have definitely changed since she was a young adult. She’s flabbergasted by bikini waxes, girls casually kissing other girls, and the multitude of martinis available at the local bars. Clothes shopping exemplifies the dilemmas Alice encounters as a new representative of the younger generation: Shopping for my new wardrobe with Maggie…I’d felt like I was supposed to be both more feminine and more professional, less threatening as well as more ambitious, and I had to spend a lot more money in order to earn less. The hardest part of her new life, however, is definitely the relationship with Josh, the man who ignited Alice’s New Year’s Eve. What started as a lark turns into something much more serious, but Alice knows their affair will end once Josh realizes she’s old enough to be his mother.

  Alice’s experiences as a woman in her 40s pretending to be in her 20s (and with a Boss From Hell who’s in her 30s) point out the challenges and compromises that are part of being female. Alice sacrificed her career for motherhood, and while she doesn’t regret her choice, she can’t help feeling like she missed out on a lot of life. So she’s horrified when she sees her young best friend at work hang on to an obnoxious boyfriend primarily because she wants to get married and have kids before it’s too late. Finally Alice realizes that neither generation has all the right answers, and that she can still pursue her dreams while being honest with herself and others about her age.  

If there’s one area in which this insightful novel falls short it’s the portrayal of Josh. He’s cute, sexy and attentive to Alice’s needs, but he doesn’t have much of a personality, making it difficult to believe that he and Alice share something uniquely special. With all of the complications that author Satran depicts for today’s women of various ages, it’s surprising that men are portrayed so superficially. Also, Alice may be in excellent physical shape but there are definite differences between the body of a woman not yet 30 and a woman in her mid-40s who has given birth. Unless they make love with their eyes closed and the lights out (which does not seem to be the case), it’s hard to believe that Josh wouldn’t notice.

  Younger is Satran’s third Downtown Press novel, and she shows impressive growth as an author from her debut, The Man I Should Have Married. With a little more effort, she could earn comparisons to Elisabeth Berg and other wise chroniclers of women’s experiences. Whether you’re 24, 44 or somewhere in between, this fine novel will engage both your head and your heart.  

--Susan Scribner

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