To begin with, Pat Pujolas’ Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World is, as far as I can tell, a work of fiction. So your first question might legitimately be “what is a work of fiction doing in a review of advertising books?” But Mr. Pujolas, like Scott Fitzgerald, Don Delillo and Salman Rushdie before him is an advertising veteran, having worked at JWT and McCann, among others. And we like to encourage the independent creative work of advertising people. Think of it as our little effort to promote mental health in the industry.
But we also include it because advertising is unusual in the business world; it is less about itself (awards shows, trade pubs and creative directors notwithstanding), and more about everything else – culture, business, commerce, art, zeitgeist – and where all those things intersect. Thus, it makes sense in a venue dedicated to books relevant to the advertising industry to discuss books relevant to all those other topics. For works of fiction are not written in a vacuum. They reflect the loves, fears, bigotries and hopes of their time – sometimes overtly and intentionally, sometimes in spite of the author’s best efforts. Often simultaneously. As does advertising, actually.
Or said another way, if reading the work of Scott Fitzgerald gives you an insight into the culture of the twenties and thirties that the advertising of Albert Lasker was a part of, then reading the work of contemporary authors will illuminate our time similarly for us. Right? Right.
The challenge, however, with reviewing a book of fiction as opposed to non-fiction, is in how much to tell. In many cases the telling of the story is the story. I can describe The Sun Also Rises as (spoiler alert) a sort of love story involving impotence, anti-Semitism and bullshit, but you have to actually read Hemingway’s book to really understand it.
This is the case in extremis with Jimmy Lagowski… where the very form itself contributes to the content of the story, leaving the reviewer with the awkward choice of either telling the whole story and taking readers (and more importantly in this economy, customers) away from Mr. Pujolas, or somehow reviewing the book without telling the reader what it’s about. Neither is optimal, so let us at least say this about Jimmy Lagowski…. Is it good? Yes. Should you buy it? Yes.
The book takes place primarily in Ohio in the not too distant past, chronicling the struggles, joys and disappointments of generally middle-class and lower middle-class Americans as they try to, not so much make sense of their times as much as merely survive them. Their stories are told cleverly and honestly with a wit and sincerity that makes the characters something more than simple words on a page. You care about these characters. Well, some of them at least. Some of them I think you’re not supposed to care about. Either way it’s because Mr. Pujolas gets the details right, which, as every copywriter knows, is at least half the battle.
And if an innate understanding of the value of details is one of the things that advertising teaches writers, then one of the challenges they face when they begin something longer than a print ad or TV spot is that they often find themselves mired in the advertising form. Sometimes their short stories feel more like a series of headlines and taglines. The phrases are well-turned and the language demonstrates talent, but the narrative is a series of sprints instead of one marathon. That is, it is engaging at first glance but tiring after the first few pages.
So it is to Mr. Pujolas’ credit that Jimmy Lagowski… is written and paced like a work of fiction and not a series of ads. The individual sections rise and fall, as does the work as a whole, with surprises, leitmotifs and callbacks that tie the whole narrative together. Indeed, in one sense Jimmy Lagowski… functions much as a fine advertising campaign does, where all the elements work as well independently as they do together. Anyone who has worked on a campaign understands just what an accomplishment this is.
Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World is a fine book and Mr. Pujolas’ is to be commended for it. And this is true in spite of the fact that it gives hope to every copywriter I have ever met that there’s more to life than meaningless briefs, ridiculous changes and unintelligible comments.
You know – that there’s more to life than being a copywriter.
Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World by Pat Pujolas was published by Independent Talent Group on 03/09/12 – order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller ( find one here).