Author : John Kenney
Genre : Literary fiction
Publisher : Touchstone
THOUGH author John Kenney makes it known early on that protagonist/narrator Finbar Dolan is lost and lonely, it takes almost the whole novel for Fin to figure out what he is missing in his life.
The novel opens with Fin working on The Commercial of his career. The advert for Snugglies diapers starring Gywneth Paltrow will air during American TV’s premier advertising spot, the Super Bowl (the National Football League’s annual championship game) in early February. With wry humour, Kenney, a real-life New York ad man, provides great insight into how creative directors, writers and executives develop ideas and story lines, how a commercial is shot, how the music is scored to make the whole package look attractive.
However, although the novel is entitled Truth In Advertising and Fin is indeed an ad guy working in a New York ad agency, the advertising aspect of the novel is actually the secondary plot. The heart of this tale is actually Fin’s past, which is revealed in a series of flashbacks. We learn that Fin is the youngest of four children in a blue-collar Irish Catholic family in Boston, and that alcohol and violence were no strangers during his childhood. A single tragic event in his young life results in Fin having physical and emotional scars, both of which haunt him in his adult life.
As his 40th year looms ever closer, Fin finally admits that he is lonely. He recently backed out of marrying his fiance Amy – just days before the wedding – he has not spoken to his siblings in years, and he doesn’t have any real friends outside of work.
And then there’s Phoebe. Beginning initially as his assistant, Phoebe begins to become more and more involved as Fin’s life unravels. This relationship, however, plods along very slowly indeed, with both characters professing to be confused and not wanting to rush into anything. While I sensed that Kenney is striving for as much reality as possible here, this part of the novel does tend to be draggy, repetitive and lacking in humour. It could have been edited further, making the Fin-Phoebe relationship somewhat punchier and not so much of a drama.
At the other end of the spectrum, Kenney’s handling of Fin’s troubled past and his relationship with his siblings is much better, with the author pushing the story along at a reasonable page-turning pace without losing the air of poignancy the plot demands. Kudos to Kenney as well for not turning Fin’s reconciliation with one of his brothers and his father into cringe-worthy mush.
Despite the shortfall in managing the Fin-Phoebe relationship, Kenney saves the novel with a clever twist in the end.
A multi-layered novel, Truth In Advertising is hard to pin down. It is a mixture of romance, family, and the absurdity of advertising and the corporate world.
Through the laughter, there are tears, and through the meaningless work, there is hope and desperation. In short, Truth In Advertising is a meditation on life – with ad-lingo thrown in.
This is not a novel for those looking for a story that deals exclusively with the advertising world. Rather, this is a novel about life and, as per Fin’s observation, life is nowhere near as perfect as a polished advert. It is readable and enjoyable, but it is not for everyone.