Monday, March 25, 2013

Truth in Advertising

Although most people would tell you that they are too smart to be fooled by advertising, the truth is that it works - and that it works on even those who claim otherwise.  But, despite its effectiveness, we still like to laugh at the whole advertising industry and those who spend their lives “lying” to the rest of us about products we can easily live without.  John Kenney’s debut novel, Truth in Advertising, gives readers a chance to do exactly that.  Truth in Advertising, however, is a novel with a serious message.  That the message is cloaked in dark, often laugh-out-loud, humor is just a bonus. 

Whether he realizes it or not, Finbar Dolan is caught up in his own version of a mid-life crisis.  He is about to turn 40, has just backed out of his impending wedding, does not have to use all the fingers of one hand to count his friends, and feels like he is pretty much just wasting his life.  He has carved out a mediocre career for himself at a Madison Avenue ad agency but no longer really believes in what he does.  Then, Fin and his three siblings, none of whom he even speaks to anymore, must decide how to handle the impending death of their long estranged father.  When he learns that none of them intend to see their father before he dies, Fin realizes he is on his own.

Truth in Advertising is a story about second chances – as opposed to “second acts.”  Fin Dunbar will come to believe that, “Every day we get a fresh chance to live the way we want.”  He learns, the hard way, that the choice is his, but that realization is a long way from where he bottoms out:

John Kenney
         “It will change.  All of it.  Imperceptibly at first.  Then irrevocably.  Thirty comes.  Thirty-five surprises you.  The prospect of forty stuns you.  Once the money was a wonderful surprise.  Now it is not enough.  A restlessness creeps in.  A wanting of something you cannot quite put your finger on.  Stories of others people’s lives fascinate you.  The idea of many things – a career change, a sabbatical, graduate school, a tattoo – seems interesting but you never do any of them.”

Whether you call it a “second chance” or a “second act,” Fin Dunbar is finally ready to make more of the second half of his life than he made of its first.  If it is really possible for a person to come-of-age at 40 (you decide), John Kenney has written one of the funniest coming of age novels that I have read in a while.  But, call it what you will, Truth in Advertising is an admirable debut novel.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I have this feeling that we come-of-age again and again the longer we live. I'm not really happy about this feeling, but I have it.

  2. James, I think you are onto something. I've already come-of-age more times than I care to remember and I am still a work-in-progress.

  3. Attracted by the interesting cover, I picked this book up the other day... meaning I picked it up off the shelf in the store and thumbed through it a bit. It looked interesting. Thank you for this review, Sam. As this year I turn 50, your description of this book seems timely for me. I am currently in the midst of experiencing the 50-year-old crisis I should have had back when I turned 40!

  4. Hey, Dave...consider yourself lucky that you didn't experience that crisis at 40 because you would probably be experiencing this one at 50 anyway. But just wait for the one you'll experience at 60...that one's a whopper.