TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

John Kenney

“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.

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“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.

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  • Touchstone
  • Hardcover
  • January 2013
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781451675542

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$24.99

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About John Kenney

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.

Praise

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

“In this Nick Hornby-esque fiction debut, midlife crisis and family tragedy force a 39-year-old ad man to reevaluate his priorities.”O Magazine (“Ten Titles to Pick Up Now”)

"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."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A masterful blend of wit and seriousness, stunning in its honesty. A novel sure to appeal to fans of Nick Hornby."Booklist (starred review)

Discussion Questions

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?