Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Truth in Advertising: When Disillusionment is Funny

Here's a test to see whether you'll like John Kenney's debut novel, Truth in Advertising; if you find the following funny, you will. In the opening scene, our narrator, 39-year-old advertising copywriter named Finbar Dolan, is on the set of a diapers commercial. Gwyneth Paltrow is starring as the mother. When the casting agency sends over a black baby to be Paltrow's son, Fin's art director Ian quips, "Chris Martin is not going to like this." (Just so we're clear, Kenney's not saying Chris Martin is racist. The joke is that Chris Martin would be pissed that Gwyneth had a fake love child that clearly isn't his.)

Me? I thought that was hilarious — and it's a good indication of the type of humor in store for the next 300 pages. Truth in Advertising is what would happen if Mad Men had sex with Jonathan Tropper. It's sarcastic, it's soaked in pop culture, and surprisingly, it does more than a bit of heart-string tugging, too — to use a phrase Fin (Kenney) would probably hate, but use in a commercial anyway.

Indeed, Fin has come to be rather disillusioned with his job ("The irony of advertising — a communications business — is that we treat words with little respect, often devaluing their meaning.") and the industry as a whole, and his defense is sarcasm. He often jokes about the earnestness of the "true believers" who say things like "Exciting things are happening in diapers these days."

With Fin's professional frustration as background, the story moves on to several plotlines. Fin's father — who he hasn't seen in 25 years — is near death. Will Fin go see him, since none of his three siblings (who have drifted apart, too) seem to be willing? And will old wounds be reopened? Is he in love with his best friend at the agency, a woman named Phoebe, even as he's still dealing with the emotional fall-out over the wedding he cancelled only eight months before? When the opportunity arises to develop a Super Bowl commercial for a new eco-friendly diaper on a super-crunched timeline, everything converges to create quite the pressure cooker for Fin. With hilarious, but heartfelt results.

Again, I loved this novel. It's not exactly a noodle-bruiser, but it is a lot of fun. Kenney, who periodically writes the Shouts & Murmurs column for The New Yorker (oh yeah, and also spent 17 years in a Manhattan ad agency), is every bit as funny as Tropper or Joshua Ferris. Yes, this novel will no doubt not be able to escape comparisons to another comic novel about an advertising agency, Then We Came to the End, but it's just as good — and may, actually be better. At any rate, if you like Tropper, Ferris, etc., you'll definitely like this, too. Highly recommended!


  1. I worked in advertising for a long time. I think I'll have to check this out!

  2. As a lover of Mad Men and a new Tropper fan (read my first one last year) I have added this one to my pile. Thanks!

  3. This sounds like a lot of fun. I am definitely. trooper fan, so I'll have to check it out.

  4. Advertising is one of my favorite jobs, my dream jobs. Using graphics design, advertising will always be the most interesting thing to do. Seeing your company grow because of the ads you're releasing makes you happy.

  5. I love free and stable advertising companies. Really I impressed from this post. Using graphics ads is good idea in recent industry.

  6. WOWh ,,,,, very nice post here. Thanks for sharing it.