Don’t expect to find Don Draper lurking when you read Helen Klein Ross’s novel Making It, based in the world of Madison Avenue advertising. The only time the suave leading character from television’s “Mad Men” appears is in a quote at the front of the book. The novel successfully captures the advertising profession at a different place and time than the popular TV show – late Nineties New York on the eve of the Millenium. It’s a time of advertising agency mergers and acquisitions, when older traditionalists in advertising are being rocked by a younger contingent of “creatives” – copywriters, creative directors and designers with an edgy approach to ads.
This clash of creative cultures is the backdrop for the story of Audrey Walker, a 46-year-old creative director with the Tadd, Collins agency. Within the first pages of the novel, Walker is fired on a Friday afternoon, the victim of a computer error that is revealed only after Walker spends the weekend agonizing in silence about the layoff, unable to ruin her husband’s birthday celebration with the news.
Although this is a bit contrived, Ross skillfully uses this opening to provide details and backstory about Walker, her stay-at-home husband Oren, and teenage son Paley. We learn about their lifestyle: a country house in Connecticut, Paley’s private school, an upscale kitchen renovation in their apartment. We also meet Walker’s friends and neighbors, Greta and Gray. By the time Audrey returns from her country house on Monday – to learn her firing was a mistake – Ross has deftly set the scene for what follows.
A merger between Audrey’s agency and the more contemporary k + d agency is the focus of the rest of the novel. Now jointly led by Audrey’s old boss, Gordon, and Kabal Prakash, a young hotshot, the agency moves in a new direction. Audrey, forced to compete with younger, hipper employees, reinvents herself, taking new creative risks and adopting a new hairstyle and wardrobe. She also is drawn to Kabal, and an impulsive kiss after a successful presentation to a client ignites an affair that continues until a business trip to Mumbai, when Audrey intercepts a fax that reveals that her job will be eliminated in the coming months – with her lover’s full knowledge.
Ross is an entertaining writer who has created multi-dimensional characters and placed them in a colorful and believable world. Making It is an enjoyable read, cleverly organized in chapters headed by some of the most famous advertising slogans of all time – from Morton Salt’s “When It Rains It Pours” to the question posed by Certs breath mints: “If he kissed you once, will he kiss you again?” Although some plot elements are a bit too pat – Kabal just happens to have a fax in his hotel room so that Audrey intercepts the one announcing her demise – Ross for the most part has written a believable novel that holds reader interest and makes us care about its heroine.
Vicki Mayk has been a journalist, magazine editor and public relations person for 35 years. Her feature articles and essays have appeared in regional and national magazines, newspapers, and trade publications, including Hippocampus and East Meets West Writers Journal.