Review: Zoe Foster’s The Younger Man

Hello everyone, my name is Lara and I’m here to admit that until very recently I had no interest in Zoe Foster. I’m not proud of this and, believe me, I intend to correct my errant ways.  When Foster’s third novel The Younger Man landed on my review pile it was time to get with the program and find out why this writer has become one of Australia’s most talked about women. I was rewarded with a witty, romantic social comedy about much more than boy-meets-girl. I am, at last, both reformed and informed.

Clearly over the past few years Zoe and I have not been moving in the same circles: I didn’t read Cosmopolitan while she was the beauty editor, I didn’t read Harper’s Bazaar while she was the Beauty Director, and I didn’t read her first two successful rom-com novels. I’m too mature (and married) for Textbook Romance, the guide to dating she co-wrote with charismatic funnyman Hamish Blake. I didn’t even buy her megabestselling DIY cosmetics guide Amazing Face. In fact I don’t think I’ve bought a beauty ‘tips and tricks’ book since my Dolly guide to pale blue eyeshadow and ace layered bangs circa 1986.  I think I convinced myself that such texts were the domain of vain younger women, who didn’t have bills and families to worry about. Luckily for me (and for Foster who has just sold one more copy of her beauty bible to one charming mum) The Younger Man encourages the reader to question their prejudices, in particular the ageism we so readily embrace as we get extra miles on the clock.

I’m not quite sure when I started thinking of twenty-somethings as ‘the young people of today’, imbuing them with faults ranging from an unwarranted sense of entitlement to a reckless disregard for socially acceptable skirt length, but I have made that leap. And, like the book’s protagonist, Abby, I need to remind myself occasionally that you can’t write off an entire generation based on the behaviour of a few.  I am most offended when people make similar assumptions about my thirty-something friends and our beliefs, which are, quite obviously, many and varied.  Foster entertains with her endearing love story while unashamedly poking fun at these notions.

Abby runs the Allure talent agency, which provides beautiful girls for promotional events. She is a headstrong and resolutely single thirty-something who likes to be in control of herself, her business and her men.  A one night stand with the gorgeous young Marcus gets complicated when the talented 22 year old turns out to be the design whiz kid at a company appointed to revamp Allure’s website.  Abby has no time for the distraction of a relationship – let alone with someone barely old enough to tie his own laces!  But Marcus is determined to prove that he is more than the sum of her generational prejudices.  Abby slowly comes to realize that the real reason for her resistance might be her own lack of confidence rather than his lack of life experience.

There are several commendable twists within this smart novel, which otherwise follows the age old tradition of ‘that thing you’re looking for might be right under your nose’ romance narratives.  One of these is that the women are front and centre in terms of personal and professional power; Abby’s biggest career hurdle is being overworked due to her crucial role in Allure’s success. Another likeable factor is that Foster has nailed the dialogue of women’s friendship circles like no other rom-com I’ve read in recent years.  Too often romance fiction writers include friends as comedy sidekicks, or as over the top sexual confidantes, or as purveyors of relentless one-liners to balance the protagonist’s inner monologue. Abby’s friendship circle talks the way my friends talk – with all the wit, warmth, regrets, self-reflection, unintentionally offensive jibes and mundane life commentary you can squeeze between coffee and cake.

Abby’s friends also flesh out the distinctions Foster makes between the thirty-somethings and the twenty-somethings, who mostly come in the form of Allure’s easy-on-the-eye employees and the equally appetizing Marcus.  Abby’s friends are dating divorcees with baggage and fighting their biological clocks, while the Allure girls are mostly worrying about their hair and nails. But, through Marcus, Foster deftly disrupts this dichotomy by showing that you can’t always judge a book by its nubile young cover. In addition to being funny, considerate, professional and accomplished, Marcus knows his way around a wine list and can throw together an impromptu picnic with flair and decent quality cheeses! As Abby starts to grasp that dating a younger man need not be a hostile battle of Cougar vs Toy Boy, Foster challenges the reader to see that people are unique individuals whose age does not define them.

The Younger Man is a charming love story with laugh-out-loud comedy moments and a cast of quirky characters that are fun to get to know.  The central message though is about self-awareness and the limiting potential of our preconceptions, at any age.

(With thanks to Penguin Books Australia for my copy of The Younger Man)

This review will also be listed as part of the 2012 Australian Women Writers reading challenge.

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