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Hilarity in an ad agency

EVER NOTICE how every new true crime book, no matter how lurid the cover, inevitably gets compared to Capote’s "In Cold Blood"?

And comic novels? Has there been a humorous piece of writing in the last 50 years that hasn’t been likened to Joseph Heller’s "Catch-22"?

Well, Touchstone, publishers of "Truth in Advertising," former ad man John Kenney’s hilarious send-up of ad agencies and corporate culture, have missed the boat. They neglect Heller and instead compare Kenney’s writing to that of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper, amusing fellows to be sure, but not in Heller’s league.

Well, I’m not going to be the one to call Kenney’s book, which already has garnered plenty of buzz, the "Catch-22" of advertising. But what

I will say is, I haven’t had so many belly laughs reading since I finally got around to picking up "Catch-22" 10 years ago.

Kenney, who logged 17 years as a copywriter at a Big Apple agency, has honed his writing chops for the last 14 years as a New Yorker magazine humor contributor. If you want to check out his bona fides-and his sardonic wit-google "John Kenney" and "New Yorker" and click on some of his short pieces. Or better yet, watch the subversively funny mock trailer for "Truth" on YouTube, which features a clueless focus group discussing the relative merits of only the dustjacket art for Kenney’s début, whose set pieces on the filming of a diaper commercial with Gwyneth Paltrow and the casting of a Big Pharma ad for an NVD (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) medication are priceless.

But a word of warning: The book reads like a cross between "Mad Men" and "Angela’s Ashes." Protagonist Finbar Dolan is lost and lonely, but only vaguely aware of the fact. He’s left his blue-collar Boston Irish upbringing behind and carved out a mildly successful career at a Mad Ave. ad agency. But closing in on 40, he’s a bit of a mess, having recently called off a wedding. Now a few days before Christmas, he’s forced to cancel a long-postponed vacation in order to produce a Super Bowl commercial for his diaper account in record time. He soon learns that his long-estranged and once-abusive father is ill and none of his siblings intend to visit. It’s a wake-up call for Fin to revisit the choices he’s made, admit he’s fallen for his co-worker Phoebe and question the importance of diapers in his life.

"Truth in Advertising" is as funny as advertised. And that’s the truth!

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor at The Free Lance-Star. He can be reached at


By John Kenney

(Touchstone, $24.99, 320 pp.)


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