Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Truth in Advertising

Summary: “F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives. I have no idea what that means but I believe that in quoting him I appear far more intelligent than I am. I don’t know about second acts, but I do think we get second chances, fifth chances, eighteenth chances. Every day we get a fresh chance to live the way we want.”

FINBAR DOLAN is lost and lonely. Except he doesn’t know it. Despite escaping his blue-collar Boston upbringing to carve out a mildly successful career at a Madison Avenue ad agency, he’s a bit of a mess and closing in on forty. He’s recently called off a wedding. Now, a few days before Christmas, he’s forced to cancel a long-postponed vacation in order to write, produce, and edit a Super Bowl commercial for his diaper account in record time.

Fortunately, it gets worse. Fin learns that his long-estranged and once-abusive father has fallen ill. And that neither of his brothers or his sister intend to visit. It’s a wake-up call for Fin to reevaluate the choices he’s made, admit that he’s falling for his coworker Phoebe, question the importance of diapers in his life, and finally tell the truth about his past.

Truth in Advertising is debut novelist John Kenney’s wickedly funny, honest, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving story about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family. -- Touchstone

When my friend selected TRUTH IN ADVERTISING by John Kenney for our June book club selection, I was pretty happy. It was a book that I hadn't yet read (which isn't always the case), and it was one that I knew had received some pretty good reviews. She selected it because we haven't read many (if any) books with a male protagonist, and she thought it might be fun to do something a little outside of our norm. I totally agreed with her.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING tells the story of Fin Dolan, an ad exec who is approaching his 40th birthday and isn't really in a good place. The holidays are fast approaching and Fin wants to take a vacation -- he actually wants to use the air tickets from his recently called off his wedding. However, Fin's bosses have given him a huge project, writing and making a Super Bowl commercial for diapers. The vacation will have to be postponed... once again.

And then, Fin's life is turned upside down when he receives a call that his estranged father is near death. Fin's dad was abusive and negligent and basically has no relationship with any of his children. For whatever reason, Fin believes he needs to see his father; and that decision causes Fin to reflect on many of his life choices.

Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure that I was going to enjoy TRUTH IN ADVERTISING. The first two chapters or so didn't exactly resonate with me, and I had a feeling that I wasn't going to like the character of Fin. Then, the book's tone changed... or maybe I did? I found that I cared about Fin a great deal and I actually enjoyed the novel quite a bit. It was both funny and touching, and I love books that can make me feel!

I think my favorite aspect of TRUTH IN ADVERTISING was how it explored a pretty dysfunctional family. I am always drawn to stories with mess-up families and TRUTH IN ADVERTISING didn't disappoint. I've read loads of books about mother/daughter relationships, but only a few about fathers and sons. I found it interesting to see how each of the children (and especially Fin) were affected by what happened to their mother and the fallout from her death; and I really enjoyed seeing how much Fin changed (or matured) in this novel.

Another thing that I liked about TRUTH IN ADVERTISING was how it explored the world of advertising. I am a big fan of Mad Men in part because I love the scenes that show the creative process of creating an ad. This novel seemed to do a great job of showing the ups and downs of a huge advertising agency, and I thought the author's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of that world was extremely entertaining.

My book club didn't spend a lot of time discussing TRUTH IN ADVERTISING -- sometimes that's the case with our group. That doesn't mean that this novel wasn't good for discussion, though. There is a reading group guide available with ten questions which delves into some interesting topics. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, father/son relationships, love, friendship, career, choices, anger, pain, and second chances.

I enjoyed TRUTH IN ADVERTISING and recommend it for fans of Jonathan Tropper and Nick Hornby.

I checked out a copy of this novel from my local library.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds good to me! I love to read about dysfunctional families. The advertising aspect sounds fascinating too.

Beth F said...

This sounds like a good read. I too like the advertising angle as well as the messed-up family!