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Get a handle on this: a new thriller that grabs you

Adages received an advance copy of "Lord Vishnu's Love Handles," a wild and inventive first novel by Will Clarke, creative director at DDB in Dallas. It's a thriller about a dot-com entrepreneur who has visions, thinks he's going bonkers, but then discovers his mind is being manipulated by a maniac who thinks he is Kalki, the 10th incarnation of Vishnu. In one brilliant scene, the protagonist, incognito in a Mickey Mouse costume at Disney World, tails his estranged wife but is blocked by Mickey fans. "I try my best to throw the kids off me, but they're everywhere. One brown-eyed boy tugs at my gloves. Another pops my suspenders and laughs like the goddamn Lord of the Flies. They all dogpile me until my knees give way. I fall onto the hot concrete with kids crawling all over me like ants. I can't breathe so well, and the Milky Way spins and pulses in my right eye."

An all-too-real nightmare? A symbolic scene alluding to the author's own dilemma or as budding novelist who finds himself trapped working full-time for an ad agency?

"No, I love advertising," says Will, who toils by day on Hershey's Chocolate Milk, Folger's Jakada and other prosaic brands. "It is such a great gig for a writer. The average fiction writer only makes $10K a year. Most of them are busing tables."

So what's the deal with the love handles? "It's all about the imperfection of things," says Will. "And about how our imperfections might save us. When things are too perfect, they tend to go bad, like Hitler trying to perfect the human race. The idea is to accept life, the good and the bad and maybe together that equals good." Has Will learned to live with his own love handles? "Well, I could probably be in better shape," he says. "Vishnu" goes on sale in September, with the Adages Book Club seal of approval.

Shock treatment

It's shocking.

A master of wickedness, Sam Shahid, president and creative director of Shahid & Co., New York, has pronounced the fine art of shockvertising dead. "Maybe we can't surprise anymore," says Sam, who serves as creative director for the Abercrombie & Fitch, the store that puts out an always-provocative magalog featuring such outrageous goodies as recipes for college drinking and nearly naked student bodies thumbing through porno pubs. In a world in which Wall Street plunges get more media play than plunging necklines and Roman Catholic sex scandals make dorm orgies look like kid stuff, reality has obviously upstaged creativity, laments Sam. But hold on, some things are still shocking, he avers. Advertising for Target stores, for example, which is sexy and edgy, creates an image he says the stores just don't live up to. "They're still just big discount stores," he complains.

Hey, check his papers!

At the White House last week, Adages was stopped by the Secret Service. There to attend the unveiling of the Advertising Council's new public service campaign for the USA Freedom Corps and Corporation for National and Community Service, this columnist danced through hoops in the 100 degree heat as an exhaustive credential check was run at the northeast gate and then at the northwest gate. The stony faced Secret Service shook their wired heads. Adages could not pass go. Finally, a young White House media liaison came to the rescue and pulled Adages inside the compound and into the East Room. A jaunty George W. Bush, fresh from signing a business-fraud bill in that very same room just hours before, told the audience that the Freedom campaign was all about "American citizens volunteering to help" and he received a big round of applause for speaking Spanish in one of the spots that featured Mariano Rivera. In a classic Dubya moment, the prez smiled ironically and observed: "I'm not sure Mariano Rivera is a U.S. citizen. I do know he plays with the New York Yankees." Obviously, no one bothered to check Mo's credentials at the gate.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

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