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Lightning Rods Hardcover – October 5, 2011

3.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

She also lampoons the pabulum of business motivational books and thepieties of CEO memoirs in a book that is consistently funny in itsstomach-turning way. (In her acknowledgments, Ms. DeWitt thanks theperson who introduced her to "The Producers.") The key to her satireis a disdain for the business world expressed with such purity that itachieves a sort of euphoria.

Like relationships, bookscan uncover knots in our psyches that might otherwise have remained obscured.Using myself as an example, I noticed that when speaking to friends about HelenDeWitt s Lightning Rods, the word fun leaped to mind but slipped outbashfully through my lips. To what extent a streak of literary Puritanism burnswithin me, I cannot fully compass. Admittedly, fun is not a word that I mused to deploying in a review. Yet, there is no denying that DeWitt s thirdnovel an office satire about a plucky entrepreneur named Joe who transforms anerotic fantasy into the idea behind a multimillion-dollar company is the mostwell executed literary sex comedy that I ve come across in ages; just the thingto lighten a subway commute or add zest to a lunch break. --Christopher Byrd (12/13/2011)

Intelligent, funny, and absurd, Lightning Rods critiques contemporary perspectives on sex, capitalist logic, and the workplace.

Standing athwart the arc of literary history uninterested in sugarcoating her interest in complex systems DeWitt is among those novelists who long for a return to formality, who dream of constructing beautiful, new, arbitrary systems. She wants to tell us all about them. She thinks her readers might enjoy working their brains a bit. DeWitt delights in language not just as a means to communicate but as a complicated game whose rules she might plumb and master. --LEE KONSTANTINOU "Review (LARB "

DeWitt 's wickedly smart satire deserves to be a classic. As I was writing this review, I came across critic Walter Kirn 's recent rereading of Joseph Heller 's Catch-22 on its fiftieth birthday. Kirn writes: There are no more Joseph Hellers, no more glorious literary crusaders who can ambush and sack, all alone, immense and intimidating social edifices. That demolition job 's been done, that project is complete. But DeWitt gives plenty of reason to believe that there 's still ambushing to be done. --Rhonda Lieberman"Lust Horizons" (09/26/2011)

Satire and comedy traditionally have the advantage of allowing an author to develop ridiculous premises to absurd lengths, and DeWitt follows the logic of her premise all the way. She winks at her reader here and there but mostly adopts a mock earnest tone, which is a shrewd move. Her many clich -ridden passages justifying the Lightning Rods are argued with such force and conviction, the reader begins to envision certain real-world businesses giving the green light to such a project. The result is a book that manages to be titillating and breezy even as it hides a clusterbomb of social commentary under its glittering, aphoristic surface.

In the long-awaited follow-up to Ms. DeWitt 's debut, The Last Samurai, a fickle vacuum cleaner salesman (who isn t very good at selling vacuum cleaners) finally decides he 's struck gold with his new business venture: a monetized glory hole installed in every office, where a pool of lightning rods has anonymous sex with sexually frustrated employees. Ms. DeWitt 's deadpanned humor makes this slim book into a complex story that works as both surrealist metaphor and corporate parody. --Michael H. Miller"Top Ten Books of fall 2011" (09/26/2011)

This is a perfect example of DeWitt 's uncanny ability to put her finger on the pulse of our many contemporary neuroses and anxieties about sex, race, disability, and whatnot... DeWitt is not interested in being a moralist; this is not a comedy of correction... like Nabokov 's Humbert trying to convince us of the allure of a pubescent girl, it 's also scarily persuasive. --Morten H i Jensen"The Birth of a Salesman" (09/26/2011)

It's an altogether different piece of writing: a sharp satirical fable that provides strong supporting evidence in favor of the proposition, as Marco Roth once put it to me, that DeWitt is 21st-century America s best 18th-century novelist.

DeWitt's wickedly smart satire deserves to be a classic. As I was writing this review, I came across critic Walter Kirn's recent rereading of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 on its fiftieth birthday. Kirn writes: 'There are no more Joseph Hellers, no more glorious literary crusaders who can ambush and sack, all alone, immense and intimidating social edifices. That demolition job's been done, that project is complete.' But DeWitt gives plenty of reason to believe that there's still ambushing to be done. --Rhonda Lieberman (09/26/2011)

In the long-awaited follow-up to Ms. DeWitt's debut, The Last Samurai, a fickle vacuum cleaner salesman (who isn't very good at selling vacuum cleaners) finally decides he's struck gold with his new business venture: a monetized glory hole installed in every office, where a pool of 'lightning rods' has anonymous sex with sexually frustrated employees. Ms. DeWitt's deadpanned humor makes this slim book into a complex story that works as both surrealist metaphor and corporate parody. --Michael H. Miller (09/26/2011)

This is a perfect example of DeWitt's uncanny ability to put her finger on the pulse of our many contemporary neuroses and anxieties -- about sex, race, disability, and whatnot... DeWitt is not interested in being a moralist; this is not a comedy of correction... like Nabokov's Humbert trying to convince us of the allure of a pubescent girl, it's also scarily persuasive. --Morten Hoi Jensen (09/26/2011)

The basic premise for Lightning Rods is so audacious that it might be hard to get past its general conceit, but its true brilliance lies in DeWitt s careful deployment of language so common that we no longer see it. As any million-dollar litigation lawyer or two-cent literary critic will tell you, the devil is in the details. --Jennifer Szalai (11/13/2011)"

DeWitt s wickedly smart satire deserves to be a classic. As I was writing this review, I came across critic Walter Kirn s recent rereading of Joseph Heller s Catch-22 on its fiftieth birthday. Kirn writes: 'There are no more Joseph Hellers, no more glorious literary crusaders who can ambush and sack, all alone, immense and intimidating social edifices. That demolition job s been done, that project is complete.' But DeWitt gives plenty of reason to believe that there s still ambushing to be done. --Rhonda Lieberman (09/26/2011)"

In the long-awaited follow-up to Ms. DeWitt s debut, The Last Samurai, a fickle vacuum cleaner salesman (who isn t very good at selling vacuum cleaners) finally decides he s struck gold with his new business venture: a monetized glory hole installed in every office, where a pool of 'lightning rods' has anonymous sex with sexually frustrated employees. Ms. DeWitt s deadpanned humor makes this slim book into a complex story that works as both surrealist metaphor and corporate parody. --Michael H. Miller (09/26/2011)"

This is not to say that Lightning Rods shares that novel's epic sweep. It is, by design, a minor work... But it so emphatically aces the tasks it sets for itself, and delivers such a jolt of pleasure along the way, that it reminds me of just how major a minor work can be. I wish the other leading American novelists would produce more books in this vein. Come to think of it, I wish Helen DeWitt would, too. At any rate, as one of her endearingly flummoxed characters might say, I literally cannot wait to see what she does next. --Garth Risk Hallberg (09/26/2011)"

Like relationships, books can uncover knots in our psyches that might otherwise have remained obscured. Using myself as an example, I noticed that when speaking to friends about Helen DeWitt s Lightning Rods, the word 'fun' leaped to mind but slipped out bashfully through my lips. To what extent a streak of literary Puritanism burns within me, I cannot fully compass. Admittedly, 'fun' is not a word that I m used to deploying in a review. Yet, there is no denying that DeWitt s third novel an office satire about a plucky entrepreneur named Joe who transforms an erotic fantasy into the idea behind a multimillion-dollar company is the most well executed literary sex comedy that I ve come across in ages; just the thing to lighten a subway commute or add zest to a lunch break. --Christopher Byrd (12/13/2011)"

This is a perfect example of DeWitt s uncanny ability to put her finger on the pulse of our many contemporary neuroses and anxieties about sex, race, disability, and whatnot... DeWitt is not interested in being a moralist; this is not a comedy of correction... like Nabokov s Humbert trying to convince us of the allure of a pubescent girl, it s also scarily persuasive. --Morten Hoi Jensen (09/26/2011)"

About the Author

Helen DeWitt is the author of a “remarkable first novel” (Daniel Mendelsohn, New York Review of Books), The Last Samurai, which has been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Berlin.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; 1 edition (October 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811219437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811219433
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #945,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
"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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Our Protagonist, Joe, has been a failure in life as a salesman at selling Encyclopedia Britannica and Electrolux vacuum cleaners. Then he realizes that to be a successful salesman he needs a product for which there is a natural unsatisfied need, which is how he comes up with his idea for his Lightning Rod employment agency. His agency will provide female employees, who will remain anonymous to both the people using her services and to all the other company employees. These employees not only provide the regular services associated with the job, but also sexual services to star male performers, so that they won't accost other regular female employees, which would instigate multimillion dollar sexual harassment suits. How Joe sells the idea to the job candidates and to the employers is the crux of the story. I have to say I admire the author's imagination in this area. One must engage in a minor suspension of disbelief for the ideas to ring true, but the overall story line is really cute and you want to root for all the characters, especially the former minimum wage office employees and professional escorts, who end up with dignified jobs plus about 60k/year and a chance to better themselves in real jobs. This is humorous fiction but also feel good fiction at the same time.

Joe learns to deal with all sorts of problems as the government wanting to use his services to spy on its employees, the minority female with the highest score who Joe initially refuses to hire, since her anonymity would be compromised by the color of her skin, wherein all the other workers are white. It needs to be added here that all sexual alliances are made anonymously through a partition joining the men's and women's restrooms and only the rear end of the women is ever in view.
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