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TRUTH IN ADVERTISING by John Kenney Kirkus Star


by John Kenney

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7554-2
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

The dilemma of the storyteller powerless to shape his own story gets a beautiful new spin in this first novel about an adman facing a family crisis.

Welcome to the shoot. It’s a TV commercial for Snugglies, the world’s biggest diaper brand. The producer’s just learned that Gwyneth (yes! Paltrow!) is leaving a day early, upending the schedule, and they’ve been using the wrong diapers (wasted film, wasted dollars). Those hiccups and baby puke aside, really, everything’s fine. The narrator of this hilarious opening is protagonist Finbar Dolan, 39-year-old senior copywriter at a top-tier New York agency. (Kenney himself is a veteran copywriter.) Fin is Boston Irish, the youngest of four siblings. Their father was an abusive cop; he left them when Fin was 12. Their mother committed suicide. The children went their separate ways. Fin found an escape in advertising; he enjoyed writing the false narratives that commercials demand. He tried to write his own narrative, asking a sweet-natured woman to marry him, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he broke off the engagement eight months ago. Now, his oldest brother, Eddie, is calling to say their father, unseen for 25 years, is in the hospital, a heart attack. Reluctantly, Fin goes to the Cape, and we temporarily leave the crazy roller coaster of the ad world for Fin’s family. The Dolans are frozen in time, as haunted as an O’Neill family. A late revelation (Kenney peels the onion with care) shows why Fin is the most traumatized of the four. But this is not a bleak novel. Kenney is marvelous on workplace camaraderie. Fin’s two best friends are co-workers. One of them he’s in love with, but the dummy only realizes this when it’s almost too late.

With wry humor, always on point, Kenney guides us through the maze of work, family, love (elusive) and friendship (a lifesaver). This is an outstanding debut.