Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

by John Kenney

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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.

“F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives. I have no idea what that means but I believe that in quoting him I appear far more intelligent than I am. 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.”

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 Super Bowl commercial for his diaper account in record time.

Fortunately, it gets worse. Fin 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 reevaluate the choices he’s made, admit that he’s falling for his coworker Phoebe, question the importance of diapers in his life, and finally tell the truth about his past.

Truth in Advertising is debut novelist John Kenney’s wickedly funny, honest, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving story about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451675559
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About 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.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Truth in Advertising includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author John Kenney. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Despite escaping his blue-collar Boston upbringing to carve out a mildly successful career at a Madison Avenue ad agency, Finbar Dolan is 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 in record time a Superbowl commercial for his diaper account. When he learns that his long-estranged and once-abusive father has fallen ill, and that neither of his brothers or his sister intends to visit, Fin is forced to reevaluate the choices he’s made, admit that he’s falling for his coworker Phoebe, question the importance of diapers in his life, and finally tell the truth about his past. Truth in Advertising is first-time novelist John Kenney’s wickedly funny, honest, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving story about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1) Truth in Advertising pokes fun at the advertising industry, yet often makes a case for it being an underappreciated art form. Do you think there is artistic value in advertising? Can you think of an example of an ad campaign or commercial that might be considered aesthetically important?

2) Fin’s relationship with his father was volatile and complicated. Is it always necessary, or possible, to forgive those who have done us so much damage in the past? Is there ever an excuse for cutting ties with a parent?

3) At different points throughout the novel, Fin has imaginary interviews with Terry Gross, Barbara Walters, and Oprah. What function does this device serve? Do you think it’s effective?

4) Why do you think the author waits so long to reveal that Fin was present when his mother died? What does this revelation teach the reader about Fin? Do you think he was right to keep this secret to himself for so many years?

5) In today’s media-saturated culture, individuals are often encouraged to “brand” themselves using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks. How would you define the difference between a person’s “brand” and their personality? What is Fin’s brand?

6) Of all the Dolan children, why do you think Fin is the only one who agrees to scatter their father’s ashes? Is this act merely symbolic? Or do you really think it helps him resolve some of his anger toward his father?

7) Fin notes that both Phoebe and Pam are friends who “understand what you mean, not what you say” (p. 232) Why is this important to Fin?

8) Oftentimes tragedies bring families closer together. In the Dolans’ case, their father’s death initially just serves as a reminder of their troubled childhood and how far apart they’ve grown. What makes them incapable of finding solace in each other, and how do you think this has changed by the end of the novel?

9) Fin frequently complains about being dissatisfied with his job, yet he remains unable to leave. What aspects of the advertising industry does he find so compelling even as he struggles to justify staying in it? He talks about advertising being based on mythology and lies. What are some societal myths about happiness and success that Fin buys into and why do you think these are ultimately unable to satisfy him?

10) Phoebe and Fin play a game where they point out one beautiful thing they see each day. How does Fin’s relationship with Phoebe and the game they play affect the way he deals with his own anger and pain? Do you think there is beauty even in tragedy?


A Conversation with author John Kenney and comedian Andy Borowitz

Andy: You spent many years working in advertising. What made you decide to set your first novel in that world? Is the real world of advertising both as funny—and sad—as your fictional version?

John: It’s a cliché but they say write about what you know. So for me it was write about advertising or the inside world of being a busboy. Advertising, certainly in the post-Mad Men era, seems to have an allure. People find it exciting and fast-paced. It certainly can be. But day to day it’s far more boring, certainly for creative people, whose days are spent sitting in an office trying to think of ideas, most of which aren’t that great (in my experience, anyway). I don’t think it’s a sad business at all but it can test one’s resolve. There are times when it’s easy to step outside of the project at hand and say, “Do we really need to be this serious about the new sodium-free ketchup spot?” That said, I liked it better than being a busboy.

Andy: What’s the biggest misconception about advertising, and why does that interest you as a novelist?

John: I think it’s how cool/sexy/exciting advertising is supposed to be. It certainly can be if you’re working on a big account like Nike or Apple or Coke. But most creatives—the copywriters and art directors who think up the ideas—work on far smaller accounts, with far smaller budgets. These people are just as committed and just as smart, and, frankly, doing a really great ad for Oreos is damned hard. Or diapers, as is the case for Fin, the main character in the book. He’s not a superstar. But successful characters don’t really interest me I like strugglers. I like confused people, damaged people. Strivers. Of course, that has nothing to do with my own experience as a decidedly non-superstar copywriter…

Andy: That brings me to the question most novelists hate to be asked: Who is the narrator Fin, and are there parts of you in his character?

John: Fin is like a lot of guys I knew in advertising. Smart, charming, funny. Guys you wanted to hang around with, have a beer with. He’s a lot smarter than I am and certainly more lost than I ever was, though God knows I had my confused days as a single guy in New York. To me the similarity—if there is one—isn’t merely the advertising connection, it’s the loss. My mother died when I was young. That was a defining event for me. And it’s only much later in my life that I realized how defining, how it colored everything for me. Fin shares that. But I think a lot of us carry around hidden traumas, those lasting pains. My editor sent me a quote from a letter that Ted Hughes wrote to his son. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. That’s Fin.

Andy: In the book, you write that we are the stories we tell ourselves. What is it that pushes Fin to finally tell himself the truth?

John: I think ultimately it’s his father’s death. Fin holds onto this anger and pain for so long, and I think it surprises him how sad his father’s death makes him, what a terrible waste it all was. It’s so hard to see your parents as people. We expect so much from them. I think he’s finally able to see his father for a flawed and traumatized man, to forgive him, to grieve for the life they never had together. He sees where not dealing with trauma and pain leads. And he doesn’t want that. I think he sees his own mortality. And it terrifies him. It makes him want to live.

Andy: Why do we meet Fin at this particular moment in his life?

John: Because he’s a mess. A job he doesn’t love. A recently canceled wedding. His estranged family and dying father. His cluelessness over Phoebe, his love interest. I think there comes a point where you realize the future isn’t limitless. For Fin it’s waking up on the eve of his fortieth birthday, being surprised by this, by the path life has taken. I think he sees that there’s a window that’s fast closing and that unless he acts differently, he’s going to be lost. He’s tried lying because the pain of the truth–of what he saw and experienced, of caring for someone who might leave–is simply too much for him. I think he finally sees that life is about courage. And the courage is to be honest with himself.

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Truth in Advertising: A Novel 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
VeronicaK89 More than 1 year ago
*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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Debutante More than 1 year ago
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 ~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reminds me of walking through the day. Actions I take. Thoughts I have. Trying to be better and dealing with life's path.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny and just when you're enjoying a light ride, Kenney manages to tug at your heart and write into your truths
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed
charlottesweb93 More than 1 year ago
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.