by Steffan Postaer
“People are not responding to the message anymore,” God tells an angel named David. The old stuff — burning bushes, parting waters, changing water into wine — aren’t working anymore. God’s looking for a new and different approach.
“In order to inspire goodness we’ve got to improve our image,” God says. “We need better copy!”
Her answer (yes, God is a she in this novel): Hire an advertising agency.
With that as a great jumping off point for the plot, author Steffan Postaer mines his knowledge of the ad biz to create a fairly interesting story with characters that readers will care about.
That is, if readers can get past the soft-porn.
David the angel gets sent down to earth to find an ad agency to “market heaven,” bumps into a beautiful woman and has sex with her the very first evening. (Is this really the way “dating” happens today? Is it art reflecting life, or does art justify — give permission to — dismissal of the virtuous life?)
And although the sex is admittedly an element of the plot, the scene does get pornographic. As do other scenes later on. They’re unnecessary and offensive. Some, too, will be offended by the language. I’m sure the crude language does reflect reality, though, and it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
What just happen here?
What is a deal breaker, though, is that Postaer develops a handful of characters, gets us involved with them, works them into the plot and subplots, and then you find yourself asking, hey, what just happened there?
The ad exec with the overactive libido suddenly gets transformed into a caring, sensitive male. His ex-wife turns from witch to a do-gooder. The creative genius at the ad agency goes from workaholic to father-of-the-year.
But we never find out why. And Postaer never quite brings all the subplot elements together. Still, he does a pretty good job of leading us to what looks like it’ll be an engaging final scene.
I won’t ruin the ending for you, but the Greeks who invented “deus ex machina” have nothing on Steffan Postaer.
Greek tragedies aside, “The Happy Soul Industry” has worthwhile lessons to share about life and faith and virtue and marketing — if you choose to get past the offensive passages. And Postaer, a successful ad copywriter who runs Euro RSCG Chicago now, has a thought-provoking idea for an ad campaign to promote goodness to the American people. Think this would work? Picture billboards at bus stops and train platforms with messages like:
The insider peek into the advertising world is worked in creatively, and Postaer has a great touch with humor. It’s good writing and good reading. The pity is that this could have been a really good novel with just a bit more work on the ending and a tad less bowing to the convention that sex sells. But I guess we know where that comes from. — bz