Forget “Mad Men.” John Kenney’s debut novel is set against the contemporary advertising world and it’s as informative and entertaining as any novel I’ve read this year. I absolutely adored it.
The protagonist, Fin Dolan, is a droll, sardonic copywriter at a big agency in New York and he’s having a crisis. Not only does he question whether he’s good at his job and whether his job has any meaning whatsoever (we meet him during a shoot for a diapers commercial starring Gwyneth Paltrow), but he’s detached from his siblings even as their father, from whom they’re all estranged, is dying alone in a hospital. And if those aren’t complications enough, he’s just broken off his engagement to Amy, the woman he was supposed to marry in a matter of days, and feels awful about it.
I loved Fin. I loved how he has hilarious imaginary conversations with Oprah and Barbara Walters and Terry Gross from NPR’s “Fresh Air,” all of whom interview him about his life and, in spite of his resistance, coax the truth out of him.
I loved his growing realization of his feelings for Phoebe, his “best friend” at the agency.
I loved how he slowly – painfully slowly – comes to understand why his family was so shattered by his father (and mother, as it turns out).
And I loved how he gives us such razor sharp descriptions of all his co-workers.
In the book’s acknowledgments, Kenney writes that “Truth in Advertising” is his second first novel (I guess the first try is still in the computer, in the trash bin). All I can say is that this second effort is so accomplished that I hope he doesn’t stop here. I look forward to seeing what he does next. He’s an exciting voice in contemporary fiction. I don’t often feel empty after finishing a book, and the fact that his left me bereft says something about his talent for creating memorable characters.