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Lightning Rods [Kindle Edition]

Helen DeWitt
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The long-awaited second novel by the author of “arguably the most exciting debut novel of the decade: The Last Samurai.” (Sam Anderson, New York).

“All I want is to be a success. That’s all I ask.” Joe fails to sell a single set of the Encyclopedia Britannica in six months. Then fails to sell a single Electrolux and must eat 126 pieces of homemade pie, served up by his would-be customers who feel sorry for him. Holed up in his trailer, Joe finds an outlet for his frustrations in a series of ingenious sexual fantasies, and at last strikes gold. His brainstorm, Lightning Rods, Inc., will take Joe to the very top — and to the very heart of corporate insanity — with an outrageous solution to the spectre of sexual harassment in the modern office.

An uproarious, hard-boiled modern fable of corporate life, sex, and race in America, Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods brims with the satiric energy of Nathanael West and the philosophic import of an Aristophanic comedy of ideas. Her wild yarn is second cousin to the spirit of Mel Brooks and the hilarious reality-blurring of Being John Malkovich. Dewitt continues to take the novel into new realms of storytelling — as the timeliness of Lightning Rods crosses over into timelessness.

Editorial Reviews


A 2011 editor's choice. -
"The novel is artful without artifice, unabashedly blunt in all matters sexual, and scathing in its satirical attack on sexual harassment in the workplace." - AudioFile Magazine
"...funny, filthy...its true brilliance lies in DeWitt’s careful deployment of language..." - New York Times
"an original, sometimes titillating, exploration of human nature and American initiative." - Booklist
"DeWitt's deadpanned humor makes this slim book into a complex story that works as both surrealist metaphor and corporate parody." - New York Observer, "Fall Arts Preview: Top Ten Books"
"Hyper-contemporary and artfully allegorical, Lightning Rods is a sprightly lampoon, full of corporate babble and technical jargon. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and unnervingly true...[Narrator] Dushko Petrovich's narration exaggerates DeWitt's humor without forsaking the seriousness of her satire. Lightning Rods should be required for...everyone in America." - eMusic
"Lightning Rods is A Modest Proposal for our sexually emancipated age. The only guilt involved in this pleasure will come to those who miss it." - Barnes & Noble Review
"Intelligent, funny, and absurd, Lightning Rods critiques contemporary perspectives on sex, capitalist logic, and the workplace." - Critical Mob
"In Lightning Rods, the nonperil Helen DeWitt has written a hilarious and pretty near perfect novel about...well, about selling and sex and the sound of the stories we tell ourselves, and of the stories we tell ourselves about the stories we tell ourselves, and of the stories we sell to others to help them have another story to sell to themselves, and about...did I mention sex? Lightning Rods is a strange and ingenious and happy-about-the-state-literature-making book." - Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
"Helen DeWitt shocks the reader with her intelligence. Lightning Rods, an exploration of the collective Id, is as lucid, methodical, and elegantly argued as a mathematical proof. It is also unremittingly filthy. DeWitt begins with a premise and goes on to think everything thinkable about it. A weird, generous, hilarious marvel." - Teju Cole, author of Open City
"Lightning Rods is one of the funniest, most unlikely, and most pleasurable novels I have ever read. If Henry Ford and Henry Miller got together to write a book, the result would be something like this." - Sheila Heti, author of We Need a Horse
"Savagely funny and wilfully provocative, Lightning Rods sees Helen DeWitt lets her fearless imagination run riot. A satirist up there with Swift and Orwell..." - Anthony Holden, author of Big Deal

About the Author

Helen DeWitt is best known for her acclaimed debut novel, The Last Samurai. She held a variety of jobs while struggling to finish a book, including a dictionary text tagger, a copytaker, Dunkin' Donuts employee, and working in a laundry service. During this time she reportedly attempted to finish many novels, before finally completing The Last Samurai, her 50th manuscript, in 1998. She has since written several other novels. She lives in Berlin.

Dushko Petrovich is a painter and writer who lives in New Haven, Connecticut. He has exhibited his work in the US and Europe, and he contributes regularly to publications such as Slate, the Boston Globe, and Modern Painters. In addition to teaching art at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design, he is a founding editor of Paper Monument.



Product Details

  • File Size: 441 KB
  • Print Length: 281 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0811219437
  • Publisher: New Directions; 1 edition (October 5, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005SH4M5Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,338 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant and incredibly sharp satire - all wrapped up in the main character's childishly simplistic sexual fantasies. Again and again, while reading this book, you will shake your head in disbelief. But you'll do so with a smile on your face. The hero is a failed vacuum cleaner salesman who essentially brings his own erotic fan fiction to life. His plan: that women in the workplace can take on extra work as "Lightning rods" - anonymous sex partners for the men in the office to discharge their frustrations and lightning on. In? On? What was I talking about? Oh yeah, having sex with only the bottom half of women. This book is the best kind of feminist humour - the kind that you put down after reading and realize that it slipped a knife into you while you were laughing. And, if you are like me, then you will also be super turned on by what is essentially a parody of male sexual simplicity. You will be reading, and sort of squirming in your seat with arousal, and then you will think "Oh no! I have become what I most detest!" and then you will read a bit more about having sex with the anonymous bottom halves of women, and then you will begin the important task of trying to convince yourself that it is okay to go finish yourself off while thinking about this because you understand the satire and anyway you don't actually have sex with only the bottom halves of women at work right? You're a good person! And so handsome!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spot-on satire, hilarious October 1, 2011
Lightning Rods is one of the most outrageously funny books I've read in a long time. Helen DeWitt has a masterful way of using her characters to make fun of society's conventions without looking down on them, strictly speaking. Her main character, Joe, hits upon a novel solution to the problem of sexual harassment. Provide anonymous temp workers who can can step into a bathroom at a moment's notice, be revealed across a partition (from the waist down) to a willing (male) employee on the other side. DeWitt follows the implications with a cool and considered logic that makes it seem all-too-plausible. When an FBI G-man catches up with Joe, informing him that he's likely in violation of a few hundred federal, state, and local regulations, Joe, salesman to the end, looks at the bright side: "We didn't violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Act," he says.

The men in this book are all push-overs who think primarily through their little brains, and the women tend to be tough cookies, cool and calculating, highly organized, detail-centric, in search of a leg up (forgive the pun -- they all go on to "swan" their ways into Harvard Law School, become millionaires and Supreme Court Justices, it seems). The prose is as pleasant and straightforward as the characters molded by it.

A study of baboons in captivity has found that those given the kind of release Lightning Rods provides (the book, not the service) will be more productive and efficient in the workplace, calmer and more at ease in their personal lives. Don't listen to me: go with the baboons, buy this book. You won't be disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and sexy. August 30, 2012
"One of the things that's perennially fascinating about the world is the way people sell things to themselves." (29)

This book definitely falls into the category of fiction in which the narrator's thought process is paramount to the plot itself. Truly, the reader experiences this book from within the deepest machinations of Joe's brain, privy to each synaptic connection as instantly as it occurs. DeWitt reveals herself as a great rhetorician in this, her latest, novel. Her exploration of the brain's capacity to rationalize (failure, moral compromise, personal shortcomings) is not only believable but poignant due to the intimate perspective the reader is allowed.

"One day, you're going to wake up and find you sold away the only life you were ever going to get for the sake of the bottom line. Well, there's only so much money you can spend in this life, and the thing you've got to remember is, the one thing you can't buy back, no matter how much money you have, is time. A billion dollars won't buy back one single minute." (238)

"Lightning Rods" reminds me of Nicholson Baker's "Vox" or "Fermata," with all of its sexual quirkiness, but overall it is more notably an intellectual look at how physical drive plays a part (or not) in the American vision of success. Through the lens of one man's fantasies, DeWitt has created a complex commentary on American culture that touches on topics of gender, race and economic status, to name a few. Moreover, the characters are frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious, a difficult feat in a book so rife with intricate thought processes. So glad I started the New Year with this fantastic read!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fierce hilarious satire September 25, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The premise of the novel is outrageous and it is to the author's credit that she does not shy away from its implications. The novel is shocking and hilarious. I read it as a fierce satire of corporate America and the dark side of its entrepreneurial spirit. I believe DeWitt is charging against facile utilitarianism. Appropriately enough, the language is full of corporate lingo and effective parodies of self-serving manipulative empowerment speech. In its theme and its characters this novel does not have much in common with the quirky and tender "The Last Samurai" but it's as smart and funny and unique as DeWitt's debut is.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Amazingly funny novel. A satire on men's thoughts, actions and aggressiveness. Not all men will like it.
Published 3 months ago by V. Vijay Kumar
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
While I found the concept interesting, the book didn't hold my interest.
Published 4 months ago by J MacB
2.0 out of 5 stars this book is not good. Repetative
Sorry, this book is not good. Repetative, trite, unfunny. I forced myself to read it to the end. Not worth it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jessica Grisham
1.0 out of 5 stars horrible and not funny at all
It started out ok, but quickly lost steam, the author inserted long monologues of in interesting stuff, I wonder how it can be a award winner!
Published 9 months ago by kaushal mehta
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I took a long time to read it, as it just didn't grab me. There wasn't enough to make me want to know what happened next. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Helen Kingsley
2.0 out of 5 stars too bad
this should have been a short story. it runs out of gas very early on and never cashes in on what was a pretty funny premise.
Published 18 months ago by anthony moore
5.0 out of 5 stars It's funny and clever and original.
A lighter hearted read than The Last Samurai, this book is a naughty comedy which attempts to deal with the repression of sexuality in our workplaces. Read more
Published 18 months ago by E.Mai
5.0 out of 5 stars An Original, Delightful and Daring Mind in Top Form
Lightning Rods is a twisted Horatio Alger story for our age. Helen DeWitt flings open the stall door on corporate stupidity and takes a nice juicy dump on the American wet dream. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Amazoniac
5.0 out of 5 stars impressive!
i was so into this book that i couldn't put it down! i have to admit that i rarely read books that have male main characters. Read more
Published on June 1, 2013 by alice
1.0 out of 5 stars poor writing
aside from poor writing throughout, and dialogue that often came across as obligatory filler, the writer spends far too much time convincing us to accept the novel's premise, and... Read more
Published on December 16, 2012 by wally osgood
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