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Truth in Advertising    by John Kenney order for
Truth in Advertising
by John Kenney
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Finbar Dolan makes lots of money at his job with the Madison Avenue advertising agency, Lauderbeck, Kline & Vanderhosen, but as he approaches his fortieth birthday, he questions the direction his life has taken. His relationships with his brothers and sister have deteriorated, he broke off his engagement three weeks before the wedding eight months ago, and his estranged father is dying.

When Fin gets a call from his oldest brother, he knows that it must be about his father, and tries his best to avoid the call. However, when he learns that none of his siblings will go to the hospital, he goes. He hates his father, blaming him for destroying their family when the elder Dolan left them. The children were all school age then, and Fin's mother became really depressed, so he blames his father for that, too. The upcoming Christmas season doesn't help his mood, and when his boss demands that Fin and his team work the week between Christmas and New Year, developing a commercial for a new kind of disposable diapers, it seems as though too much angst has been piled on Fin.

For years, Fin has joked and lied about his personal problems, hiding from those closest to him the pain that had built up inside him over the years. He has several good friends at work, who know that awful things happened when he was growing up, but none of them really know the truth of his past, and he rarely even admits the true events to himself. He has lived with anger and resentment toward his father and family for so long that he doesn't believe there's any other way to live, and he never thinks of himself as being good at anything.

A good crisis in one's life can help focus the mind, though, and Fin begins to act, rather than just think about his life. He visits his dying unconscious father in the hospital. He works hard with his team to develop the best ad they possibly can for the new 'Snugglies Planet-Changers, the world's first disposable, bio-degradable diapers.' His visits to the hospital begin to make him face his past. Work on the advertisement leads to self awareness about where his life is heading, and he finally begins to be truthful, not only to himself, but to others.

This book about Finbar's revelations is laugh-out-loud funny while he remains dishonest, and in a darker way, after he begins to face the truth. We get descriptions of the people he works with at the advertising agency, which made me write lists and long for a list of characters in the front or back of the book, since there were almost as many as in a Russian novel. There are lots of lists in the text, and these can be entertaining, even though they tend to go on too long. A good example that isn't too long would be Fin's description of himself:

'I worry that I have a kind of retardation having to do with romantic relationships (thirty-nine and single), marriage (see the aforementioned cancellation of wedding), children (enjoy holding and smelling them, fear being responsible role model for them). My day is spent in diapers (has to be a better way to say that) and yet I, myself, have never changed one.'

The diaper comment is a good example of the more subtle humor that catches you off-guard during a serious description. I enjoyed Truth in Advertising, liked Fin's character and the way he evolved, and learned to skim lightly over the longer, less interesting lists and descriptions. The initial introductions to the characters aren't really that important to the story itself, although there's a lot to laugh at, and referring to my character list helped me keep track of everyone when they were named later. Knowing exactly who was who did contribute to the overall humor.

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