Truth in Advertising: A Novel

( 12 )

Overview

A wickedly funny, honest, and poignant debut novel in the spirit of Then We Came to the End and This Is Where I Leave You about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family.

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,...

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Truth in Advertising: A Novel

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Overview

A wickedly funny, honest, and poignant debut novel in the spirit of Then We Came to the End and This Is Where I Leave You about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family.

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.

First-time novelist John Kenney, a regular New Yorker contributor, mines his own advertising background to weave spot-on, compelling insider detail into a hilarious, insightful, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving debut.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - John Wilwol
Peppered with colorful impressions of New York City life, Truth in Advertising is a quick-witted, wry sendup of the advertising industry and corporate culture…[it] delivers a clear-eyed, sympathetic story about complex family ties and the possibility of healing.
Publishers Weekly
The debut novel from New Yorker humorist and former advertising copywriter Kenney is a hilarious ad-world satire and a modest family drama. Finbar Dolan has a successful career in commercials, managing a diaper account for a big New York agency. Otherwise, Fin’s life is a mess: he broke up with his fiancée a month before their wedding, is infatuated with his office assistant, Phoebe, and is estranged from his entire family. When his workaholic boss drags him into the office over Christmas to craft a Super Bowl commercial for biodegradable diapers (one of the concepts involves attaching Al Gore’s head to a global parade of Earth-friendly babies) and his abusive, long-lost father turns up in the hospital, Fin’s universe is tipped on its ear. The advertising insider lore and commercial shoot set pieces are golden; the family drama is less successful. Although set up to seem high stakes, events outside Fin’s control guide his family crisis away from father-son conflict and toward less compelling internal struggles. As a satire, the novel is willing to bite off an ambitious chunk of popular culture, but as a human drama, it chooses to make safe choices. Even so, much is a comic tour de force; fans of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper will have a new author to watch for. Agent: David Kuhn. (Jan.)
("Ten Titles to Pick Up Now") - O Magazine
“In this Nick Hornby-esque fiction debut, midlife crisis and family tragedy force a 39-year-old ad man to reevaluate his priorities.”
Booklist (starred review)

"A masterful blend of wit and seriousness, stunning in its honesty. A novel sure to appeal to fans of Nick Hornby."
Andy Borowitz

“No one makes me laugh like John Kenney. So I expected Truth in Advertising to be very funny, and it is. But I was unprepared for how deeply felt and richly observed it would be. This is a beautiful novel and a dazzling debut.”
William Landay

"John Kenney writes with style, intelligence, humor, and heart. Truth in Advertising is a frank and wickedly funny peek into a world you only think you've seen, a glossy high-powered ad agency. But it is also something more: the story of a man thoroughly marinated in the little white lies of advertising who must learn, finally, to be honest with himself. Highly recommended."
From the Publisher
“The protagonist, Finbar Dolan, is Don Draper stripped of all his glamour, success and pomade. What Fin, a midlevel copywriter, does have on Don is a sense of humor. . . . Framed around a surprisingly sweet romance, as well as Fin’s eventual confrontation with his painful family history, this debut offers a pleasing lightness-to-heart ratio.”

“Peppered with colorful impressions of New York City life, Truth in Advertising is a quick-witted, wry sendup of the advertising industry and corporate culture. . . . Delivers a clear-eyed, sympathetic story about complex family ties and the possibility of healing.”

“[Kenney’s] insights are dead-on. . . . [His] plot is perfectly balanced between the insanity of both work and family, and the ending is satisfying without being saccharine. . . . Engaging and entertaining . . . The joy is in the journey, of spending time with a character that is, at times, annoying and thoughtful,arrogant and scared, childish and mature — in other words, someone like the rest of us.”

“You'd expect that a man who writes humor pieces for the New Yorker would be funny – and he is. John Kenney, who also worked as an advertising copywriter, knows that world and skewers it mercilessly and hilariously in his debut novel. . . . It would also be safe to say that amazing things will most likely be happening in John Kenney's literary career right now. Truthfully.”

Truth in Advertising has a cinematic sense of motion. . . . [Kenney is] a naturally comic author who has created a likeable narrator in Fin Dolan. . . . Humor springs from a deep well of family-induced anguish, and soon enough comedy and tragedy are braided throughout the narrative.”

“This debut novel reads at times like a laugh-out-loud standup routine. What sustains it, though, is much more substantial: an engaging, believable plot, a fascinating if jaundiced view inside the contemporary world of New York advertising, and most of all, a lead character you're glad you get to know. . . . It's a measure of Kenney's writing talent that the regular gusts of delicious, smart-alecky ad agency banter among Dolan and his witty comrades and the painful-to-read scenes depicting the toxic relations among siblings feel equally real in this novel. . . . [A] smart, cinematic story.”

"We're sold on Kenney's trenchant, quick-witted debut."

"Kenney, who’s worked as a copywriter for 17 years, mines this rich territory for satire. . . . Fin’s struggle to understand his dad brings a layer of emotional complexity to the tale. . . . Kenney’s novel wrestles with deep questions: What makes a good man? What makes a good life? What should one’s contribution to the world be?"

“In this Nick Hornby-esque fiction debut, midlife crisis and family tragedy force a 39-year-old ad man to reevaluate his priorities.”

“A lively debut that has ‘movie deal’ written all over it.”

Library Journal
Finbar Dolan, a thirtysomething writer at a prominent New York advertising agency, is lost. Life in New York has no more appeal. And while he enjoys the perks of first-class travel and his large salary, writing diaper commercials has become meaningless. Distanced from his siblings, Fin is thrown off course when his brother calls with news that their estranged father is dying; Fin is further surprised to find himself at his father's bedside at Christmas. Now with a deadline looming on a Super Bowl commercial, Fin struggles to forgive his parents, figure out what is important, and finally say what he means to those about whom he cares the most. VERDICT This debut novel by a frequent New Yorker contributor is not a coming-of-age tale, but it carries that same wonder of transition as you watch Fin Dolan grow and change. With wry wit, excellent pacing, and pitch-perfect, often hilarious, dialog, Kenney has created something remarkable: a surprisingly funny novel about an adult American male finally becoming a man. Highly recommended.—Jennifer Beach, Cumberland County P.L., VA
Kirkus Reviews
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.
Booklist
"A masterful blend of wit and seriousness, stunning in its honesty. A novel sure to appeal to fans of Nick Hornby."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“You'd expect that a man who writes humor pieces for the New Yorker would be funny – and he is. John Kenney, who also worked as an advertising copywriter, knows that world and skewers it mercilessly and hilariously in his debut novel. . . . It would also be safe to say that amazing things will most likely be happening in John Kenney's literary career right now. Truthfully.”
The Phoenix (Boston)
"A snortingly funny debut ... Although Nick Hornby is the obvious reference — humor and heartbreak of ordinary life — this wonderful book is more J. Alfred Prufrock."
People Magazine
“A lively debut that has ‘movie deal’ written all over it.”
O Magazine (“Ten Titles to Pick Up Now”)
“In this Nick Hornby-esque fiction debut, midlife crisis and family tragedy force a 39-year-old ad man to reevaluate his priorities.”
Entertainment Weekly
"We're sold on Kenney's trenchant, quick-witted debut."
Denver Post
"Here's a smart one. . . . Lovers of the city will find much to love in this relatable, redemptive, and sometimes very funny story."
Interview.com
“The rare novel that's truly cinematic. It is sexy, the plot twists in just the right places; simply put, it's untamable. You will laugh almost as much as you will relate to the plight of the protagonist.. . . This book might just rouse the creative genius in you, too.”
New York Times
“The protagonist, Finbar Dolan, is Don Draper stripped of all his glamour, success and pomade. What Fin, a midlevel copywriter, does have on Don is a sense of humor. . . . Framed around a surprisingly sweet romance, as well as Fin’s eventual confrontation with his painful family history, this debut offers a pleasing lightness-to-heart ratio.”
Washington Post
“Peppered with colorful impressions of New York City life, Truth in Advertising is a quick-witted, wry sendup of the advertising industry and corporate culture. . . . Delivers a clear-eyed, sympathetic story about complex family ties and the possibility of healing.”
Dallas Morning News
“[Kenney’s] insights are dead-on. . . . [His] plot is perfectly balanced between the insanity of both work and family, and the ending is satisfying without being saccharine. . . . Engaging and entertaining . . . The joy is in the journey, of spending time with a character that is, at times, annoying and thoughtful,arrogant and scared, childish and mature — in other words, someone like the rest of us.”
Chicago Tribune
Truth in Advertising has a cinematic sense of motion. . . . [Kenney is] a naturally comic author who has created a likeable narrator in Fin Dolan. . . . Humor springs from a deep well of family-induced anguish, and soon enough comedy and tragedy are braided throughout the narrative.”
BusinessWeek
"Kenney, who’s worked as a copywriter for 17 years, mines this rich territory for satire. . . . Fin’s struggle to understand his dad brings a layer of emotional complexity to the tale. . . . Kenney’s novel wrestles with deep questions: What makes a good man? What makes a good life? What should one’s contribution to the world be?"
Associated Press Staff
“This debut novel reads at times like a laugh-out-loud standup routine. What sustains it, though, is much more substantial: an engaging, believable plot, a fascinating if jaundiced view inside the contemporary world of New York advertising, and most of all, a lead character you're glad you get to know. . . . It's a measure of Kenney's writing talent that the regular gusts of delicious, smart-alecky ad agency banter among Dolan and his witty comrades and the painful-to-read scenes depicting the toxic relations among siblings feel equally real in this novel. . . . [A] smart, cinematic story.”
O Magazine(“Ten Titles to Pick Up Now”)
“In this Nick Hornby-esque fiction debut, midlife crisis and family tragedyforce a 39-year-old ad man to reevaluate his priorities.”
Boston Globe
“The comedy sparkles [with] mordant one-liners, snappy banter, and hilarious workplace scenarios.”
USAToday.com
“It's the stuff of Jonathan Tropper novels and Judd Apatow films and every Zooey Deschanel fantasy.”
AdAge.com
"Hilarious. . . . Kenney mixes inside advertising jokes with the broad comedy necessary to keep those in the real world laughing."
Christian Science Monitor
“[A] comedic send-up of the ad industry's self-importance, as narrated by a good-hearted if skeptical underachiever . . . A pleasure to read.”
Toronto Star
"New York-based Kenney . . . knows of what he speaks. He is particularly brilliant at clashing Fin’s jadedness with the unglamorous products he’s forced to pitch. . . . [A] delightfully caustic piece of satire."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"It will make you laugh out loud at times and it will also touch you deeply. . . . This is the sort of book where you really care about the characters. . . . You will not be disappointed in Truth in Advertising. The plot is highly entertaining, but it is the joy of getting to know such a realistic, likeable, believable character as Finbar Dolan that makes this novel such a treat. Fin is the sort of guy you will enjoy spending time with.”
Lurzer's International Archive (UK)
"What really amazed me was the unexpected depth and subtleness of the rest of the book, which showcases writing that, in terms of talent, puts Kenney in a league with the best of American writers of his generation."
Shelf Awareness (Best Books of 2013)
"An honest and insightful novel about a business and a life that have both been anything but . . . . Wonderfully entertaining and elegantly written."
O Magazine (“Ten Titles to Pick Up Now”)
“In this Nick Hornby-esque fiction debut, midlife crisis and family tragedy force a 39-year-old ad man to reevaluate his priorities.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451675542
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 1/22/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Kenney has worked as a copywriter in New York City for seventeen years. He has also been a contributor to The New Yorker magazine since 1999. Some of his work appears in a collection of the New Yorker’s humor writing, Disquiet Please! He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit ByJohnKenney.com.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Wow.

    One of the best books I have read in years, and I am an avid reader. It is one of those books that makes you want to live a better, more meaningful life. You cannot ask for more than that. Thank you, John Kenney.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 22, 2013

    *I was sent an advance reader copy from the publisher* What att

    *I was sent an advance reader copy from the publisher*

    What attracted me to this debut novel is the suggested similarity to Jonathan Tropper's novels. Having finished this book, I can honestly say that fans of Tropper will love this new volume from John Kenney. Much like Tropper, Kenney has a way of dissecting his characters and letting the reader enter their minds and really gain an understanding of them. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew Fin Dolan inside and out.

    There is a little bit of Fin Dolan in all of us. Do we truly know what makes us happy? Can we achieve happiness? Fin is dealing with a lot of issues, but who isn't? Fin's father was abusive and indirectly/directly (depending on where you side) responsible for Fin's mother's death. That has scarred the four Dolan children for life, making it unlikely they will ever be the type of family to stay in touch or show emotion to anyone. Thus, Fin has difficulty showing his emotions to the woman he loves.

    I found Fin to be especially likeable because of how easy it is to relate to him. His coworkers Pam and Ian are funny and refreshingly sarcastic which helps Fin keep his sanity while he tries to come up with the perfect diapers commercial on a tight budget. When Fin learns that his father has fallen ill, he must decide if he will take the time to go visit him, knowing his siblings won't. His mental journey while he deals with his father's illness answers many questions for readers, like why he is so scarred and why his emotions are kept under lock and key for the most part. The present is interspersed with momentary flashbacks so that readers slowly get a complete picture of Fin.

    There are a few surprises throughout this book that keep the reader interested. While Kenney deals with some poignant issues, his use of humor keeps this from being depressing. There is quite a bit of background information on advertising and creating a commercial which only adds to the story. The introspective parts of this book aren't cliche either which is also surprising. I definitely recommend this for anyone who is a fan of Jonathan Tropper or anyone interested in a look at the intricacies of family life

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Love this Book !!! Funny and Tender. A great read. I hope he'

    Love this Book !!! Funny and Tender. A great read. I hope he's prolific as well ! Can't wait to read more by John Kenney ~

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2013

    Reminds me of walking through the day. Actions I take. Thoughts

    Reminds me of walking through the day. Actions I take. Thoughts I have. Trying to be better and dealing with life's path.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    Kenny is beyond amazing and this book is one of my top five all

    Kenny is beyond amazing and this book is one of my top five all time reads.  I went from laugh out loud tears of hysteria,
    to heartfelt tears of simpatico.  I want Fin Dolan to be in my life. He is edgy and real and wonderfully glib.  He is a mix of
    Camus’ Meursault, O’Neill’s Edmund, and the Farrelly brother’s characters of wit and charm.  He unfolds the back story gently;
     a story that compromised Fin’s his ability live life.  Fin dabbles in punch lines and snickers…the stuff of 60 second commercials…
     until he comes to terms with his past.  Lots of life truisms but without being didactic.  Love this book.  Walk a mile in Fin’s
    shoes and you won’t be disappointed…the journey is rewarding.  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2013

    Great vacation read. Sorry it ended before my trip did!

    I want to have an expensive dinner with Fin and his wonderful friends. The ending of this beautiful novel is perfect. I've told my friends to rush out and buy it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Funny and just when you're enjoying a light ride, Kenney manages

    Funny and just when you're enjoying a light ride, Kenney manages to tug at your heart and write into your truths

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2013

    Gooo D Good

    Really enjoyed

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  • Posted January 29, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Truth In Advertising is a really well written novel. The humor,


    Truth In Advertising is a really well written novel. The humor, the pain, they flow together so seamlessly. It made it really easy to like Fin and root for him to find the happiness that has been lacking in his life.  If you are looking for a good novel, look no further, John Kenney will not disappoint you with Truth in Advertising.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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