Truth in Advertising (Review)


Truth in Advertising
John Kenney, 2013
320 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
November, 2013

Finbar Dolan is a 39-year old man working in diapers who needs a change. That's the symbolic gag underpinning (!!) John Kenney's often hilarious novel about the New York ad world. The diapers? They're Fin's big advertising account.

It's Fin's smart take on the ad business that makes this book so funny. Yet one of life's maxims is that witicisms and combacks too often mask a troubled soul. Jokers deflect pain under the guise of humor—so, yes, Fin is funny, but his humor goes down only so far.

As a copywriter, Fin writes ad slogans like this one: "Because let's be honest—what's more important at the end of your day than your family...and grilled meats." Fin knows he and his cohorts "treat words with little respect": phrases like "all new" and "original" have lost all meaning. Or this one—"great for any occasion"—which he once saw on a sign for a chain of cupcake shops:

Great for any occasion.... Any occasion? Doctor: "Mr. Dolan, the test results are back and I'm afraid you have an inoperable brain tumor. Cupcake?"

Right now Fin is in crisis: a dying father, estranged siblings, and angry ex-fiancee. Worse, he can't gin up the enthusiasm—let alone inspiration—for his diaper account. Fin's bottle is empty.

The story revolves around Fin as his world falls apart, and we stick with him as he works to put it back together. His journey is one of maturation (getting out of diapers) in which he must come to recognize the things in life that hold value.

This is a delightful read, one that can give a break to book clubs after some heavy lifting. For extra fun, check out the publisher's book's great for a laugh ("A river elf?"—best line).

See our Reading Guide for Truth in Advertising.

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