Author: John Kenney
No. of Pages: 320
Origins: Simon & Schuster
Bottom Line: Excellent novel that will make readers laugh and, more importantly, think about what the meaning of happiness and contentment.
"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 Superbowl commercial for his diaper account in record time.Fortunately, it gets worse. He 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 re-evaluate the choices he’s made, admit that he’s falling for his co-worker Phoebe, question the importance of diapers in his life, and finally tell the truth about his life and his past."
Thoughts: In John Kenney’s Truth in Advertising, Finbar Dolan is a hot mess. A penchant for storytelling led him to a career in advertising. After eight years, what seemed great now seems inane, and as he approaches forty, he is left wondering if there isn’t something more important than creating a fabulous new Super Bowl worthy commercial for diapers. As he skates through the assignment questioning the validity of his career, he is forced to face some hard truths about his past, his present, and his future, but he manages to get in more than a few good jabs along the way.
"In that moment I think, This is my life. This, here and now. This is as close as I am ever going to get to that elusive thing called happiness. How could I ask for more?" (p. 302)
Fin is a modern-day everyman. Who hasn’t questioned one’s career path, chosen industry and/or department, and wondered if there isn’t something more fulfilling out there? The conclusions Fin draw may not be the most palatable but they are the most realistic, and therein lies Fin’s appeal. They are surprising insights for their non-fairytale ending but extremely satisfying. For in Fin’s realizations, one finds a modicum of hope – hope that one is not alone in feeling frustrated and unfulfilled, hope that the grass is not greener, and hope that one’s best at a monotonous job is enough.
"F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives...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. We get a chance to do one amazing thing, one scary thing, one difficult thing, one beautiful thing. We get a chance to make a difference." (p 298)
It is a shock to learn that Truth in Advertising is Mr. Kenney’s debut novel, as it has none of the faults typically seen in a novelist’s first piece of work. Wittily told, it absolutely skewers modern-day business and the general inanity that occurs in offices and cubicles around the country. In Fin, Mr. Kenney creates a modern-day non-hero, the type of character every reader will recognize and with whom there is an instantaneous connection simply because of the fact that every reader employed in corporate America has been Fin at one point in time or another. Fin’s struggles in regards to his father are poignant and timely given the rapidly aging Boomer generation and the increasing number of Gen Xers forced to care for them. Entertaining and well-told, Truth in Advertising will have readers evaluating their own career dissatisfaction and developing their own realistic truths.