Fury in the Heart by W. T. Ballard. Monarch (1959), 157 pp.
Ken Coate had been the interim manager of a Los Angeles PR firm since his well-liked mentor Whitey Osterman was disabled by a heart attack. Ken was expecting to be the permanent replacement, but instead upper management in New York sent inexperienced Don Prentice to do the job. Almost immediately, Ken’s girlfriend, ambitious and voluptuous account assistant Kitten Foster, dumped Ken and took up with Prentice. Now Ken’s tenuous position is being further undermined by Hap Perelman, PR guy for smarmy actor Sonny Isles. Isles stars in a TV show sponsored by the car company that has been Ken’s most important client. Only when Ken meets Perelman’s pretty young assistant, June Hecker, does his future begin to brighten.
Fans of Mad Men will find something familiar in this story of a business dedicated to manipulating the public. The book has byzantine maneuvering within the office, sexual liaisons among staff members, even the need for an auto manufacturer’s account. The novel is like the TV show in other ways. It focuses primarily on a fortyish divorcé who’s burning out on his job, but it also includes a large cast of supporting players whose viewpoint the narrative often takes. And the characters act so often in their rational self-interest that judgments about their behavior are appropriately absent. The world it creates seems credible. Readers who might otherwise scoff at Ken’s approach to achieving happiness will come up short: Didn’t Don Draper do the same thing? Like the author’s The Package Deal (1956), the book offers an entertaining inside look at the business of Hollywood.