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Lightning Rods

3.28 of 5 stars 3.28  ·  rating details  ·  884 ratings  ·  234 reviews
“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...more
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published October 5th 2011 by New Directions
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(showing 1-30 of 2,322)
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Mike Puma

4 stars, with reservations.

As a kid, I would scan the movie section of The Western Catholic most wanting to see the films that had been given the Condemned rating and those in a category called For Adults with Reservations. The value of the Condemned category to this pervy kid was obvious. The For Adults with Reservations rating was not as self-evident, and for me, seemed to indicate that the films in this category, while not generally a good idea for catholics to see, were at least OK as long a

...more
Fionnuala
Apr 01, 2014 Fionnuala rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Fionnuala by: & other stories
I bought this because it was promoted by a small independent publisher called '& other stories' and it sounded both hilarious and intriguing.
However, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, De Witt spins a funny enough yarn but she’s skating on fairly thin ice.
It has to be said in her defence that she rolls out this ‘penetrating’ tale with her tongue placed firmly in her cheek and once you take that on board, things fall into place quick as lightning.
The main character, a failed...more
Lee
Written circa 1999, Helen DeWitt's second novel seems spawned by the stain on Monica Lewinsky's dress. Should've been published years before October 2011 -- a shame that those who LOVED DeWitt's first novel published in 2000, The Last Samurai, had to wait so long for NYC publishers to get their act together (long live New Directions!).

Readers who like to laugh should read this one: the first hundred pages seemed to have 1+ LOLs per page. Sometimes reminded me of George Saunders, Michel Houllebe...more
Maureen
do you want to eliminate pesky sexual harassment lawsuits in the workplace?

why, install "lightning rods" service in your office to sate the inevitable urges of your top sales performers by giving them the opportunity for anonymous release! plus! you'll get extra use out of the disabled bathrooms! not to mention adequate office skills from a fine pool of temporary employees!

the protagonist of lightning rods is joe, a salesman who hits upon this business venture after failing to succeed in the do...more
Sam
Dec 15, 2012 Sam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Style-wise, a real stunner. Several reviewers have already talked about the recycled macho ad-speak, and that's part of it, but there's a weird, twisted kind of imagistic beauty going on in the early part of the book that animates the adspeak, as in the moment when Joe goes walking on the sand and notices a pelican:

"The sand near the road was choppy, warm where the sun hit, cool where the hollows were in shade. Then the sand was firm and ribbed, and then it was flat and wet. The line of pelican...more
Joey Comeau
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 dischar...more
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Joe, stuck in a dead-end job selling vacuum cleaners, spends most of his days perfecting his masturbatory fantasies. In an effort to “build a better mousetrap,” Joe comes up with an ingenious method of eliminating sexual harassment claims in the workplace. The idea? Lightning Rods. Women, who on the surface appear to be perfectly capable/qualified support staff, but are also willing to take one for the team, if you will.

I love good sa...more
Judy

I was prepared to be grossed out by this book. I only read it because it was on the Tournament of Books list, pitted against Salvage the Bones, of all things. After all, reading about a loser who turns his sexual fantasies into a profitable business is not something a self-respecting feminist does.

Who knew that Helen DeWitt has actually created a feminist attack on not only sexual exploitation but also sales as a profession, corporate life, men in general, and much more. She did this without pre...more
Justin Evans
A friend of mine, whom I very much respect, told me this wasn't very good. Here's my suspicion: if you've read 'The Last Samurai,' which I have not, and you come to this book expecting something moving and tender, you'll probably hate it. It's like taking a swig of cola, only it isn't cola, it's bourbon. Nasty. But if you're expecting bourbon... that can be very pleasant.

Like bourbon, this book is more about stripping paint than nourishing or softly soothing. It's funny and gross, but also very...more
Prometheus
The surefire sign you are in the hands of a master is if her novel exhausts all the intellectual possibilities of the situation she has devised, or, to put it another way, the novel leaves no intellectual stone unturned. Most novels don't come close. Most novels don't even try. Helen DeWitt's LIGHTNING RODS, however, succeeds in doing just that.

Does this mean the book is perfect, that it has no errors to its name? No, not by a long shot, but the errors, as happens in all great literature, add r...more
christa
It shouldn’t be an awkward thing to explain to my hair guy the plot of Helen Dewitt’s novel “Lightning Rods.” For one thing, he has just spent the trimming process going into moderate detail about his current dating life and the highlighting process talking about the time when he was 27 and fell into a relationship with a woman nearly twice his age who confessed to him that she hadn’t slept with anyone in 10 years.

But here I am, backed head first into a sink, my face Prude Purple. The team one...more
Peter
The following review is actually just a hastily patched-together conversation I had with my wife while I was finishing this book. It took place on the first nice day of an early Minnesotan spring, as we strolled around a lake with nice Midwestern families, dodging puddles from snow melt.


Me: You know that book I've been reading all the time lately?
Wife: Yeah.
Me: Have I told you how crazy it is?
Wife: Not really. What's crazy about it?
Me: Well it's this really odd satire of sexual harassment in t...more
Olga Zilberbourg
Published by innovated & Other Stories Press in London, UK, this is a wise and humorous send-up of contemporary corporate culture. The plot--the top layer of meaning--has to do with an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman Joe, who, unable to sell a single Encyclopedia, starts a business capitalizing on his erotic fantasy. He imagines having sex with a woman stuck leaning of the window and whose upper body is invisible to him. He conceives of "lightning rods," a contraption that he installs in of...more
Gabriel C.
Just awful. I read this on an airplane and then immediately had to deal with the kind of things that arise when you make an international move, so I didn't write this review with the book fresh in my mind, unfortunately. This could have been one for the ages.

Let me say this: stupid isn't satire. Cardboard isn't commentary. Forced isn't funny. Good, funny, biting satire stakes out challenging positions on fresh new issues and blisters the reader with incision after incision after incision. See R...more
Judith
From the author of "The Last Samurai" comes something completely different. Can you picture an office system in place designed to cut down on sexual harassment lawsuits by providing a completely discrete onsite service of sexual intercourse? That's the story here: Joe, a disgruntled vacuum cleaner salesman, using his own sexual fantasy as a model actually develops and markets a system whereby the appropriate body parts are offered through a small opening in the disabled stall of the men's room o...more
Alison Smith
Lightning rods – Helen de Witt
I was really looking forward to her second novel with a lot of anticipation. The wait has been a long one, since her marvellous The Last Samurai one of my fave books, which I have read at least 3 times, unusually for me. So I bought it at vast expense, on line, and fetched the hard-covered book (not available in paperback) this week, and read it very swiftly – it’s not a long book.
Once I’d got over the shock of this outrageous, shocking novel which – by the by – sho...more
A.M.
I am so glad I gave Lightning Rods a chance, because 75 pages into it, I was pretty irked and wondering how the hell the thing made it onto the 2012 "Tournament of Books" list. The premise is absolutely outrageous - a failing vacuum cleaner salesman brainstorms a way for business men to get the sex they need during office hours without it being "prostitution." This is satire, folks - scathing social commentary on our modern day relationships, career ambitions, office politics, law and even the F...more
Marco Kaye
The best book I read all summer. Like Aristophanes on too much office coffee, DeWitt begins with an impossible premise and, through carefully structured logical arguments, makes it thrillingly real.

The main character, Joe, often works out these arguments by talking to himself. He is the prototypical American visionary. And DeWitt gives us access into his crazy sexual fantasies. Fantasies which he then uses to succeed in business. The author has worked out every possible challenge to Joe's dream...more
Noralo
HORRIBLE. Sexist, heteronormative, simplistic about race - it's got pretty much everything you don't want to see in a contemporary novel, by a woman no less.

I read the entire thing because I kept thinking, of course we will move on from the sex-in-the-workplace thing and it will have farther-reaching implications. But every time the narrator explicitly stated there were far-reaching implications (which happened quite a lot), it was less a commentary than a chain of reactions.

Even when I tried t...more
Diana
Joe, the narrator, is hilariously horrible. Unsatisfied with his lot as an unsuccessful salesman, he dreams up a scheme to revolutionize the corporate world by creating "Lightning Rods, Inc.," a company devoted to serving the sexual needs of businessmen (re:white, hetero, male).

Yes, Joe is hopelessly stuck with his head up his own behind, fancying himself a sort of trailblazer, challenging the outdated sexual mores of the workplace and changing the world. The satire here is beautiful, as we mud...more
David Hebblethwaite
Lightning Rods is a satire on American corporate culture and social mores, which traps its readers and characters alike in mazes of rhetoric. Helen DeWitt’s protagonist is Joe, a salesman who failed at selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners, but has his brightest idea when hope seems dim. Retreating into his private fantasies, Joe theorises that sexual harassment in the workplace could be dealt with if men had a legitimate outlet for their desires. He devises a system whereby a select group o...more
Al
I honestly have no idea what to make of this book. It's a satire, sure, but of what? Business? (The MARC record says "corporate culture", which I could see, but with caveats.) America in general? A Certain Type of Person (ie. salesman or business person or huckster or unreformed male chauvinist)? I'm not sure. It was inspired by The Producers, which I've never seen, so maybe watching that would help. The book is essentially the story of a man with an absolutely absurd and distasteful idea who no...more
jess
i read this because it's a morning news tournament of books contender. It's kind of funny that I finished this book on valentine's day when this is perhaps the least romantic book ever?

The basic plot is that Joe, a failed, floundering American salesman, comes up with this brilliant idea of providing the service of "lighting rods" in company offices. Lighting rods are "bifunctional employees" - women who provided anonymous sex through a hole in the bathroom wall to (exclusively male) high-powere...more
Karl
Picked this up after work today because of an interview on The Awl (http://www.theawl.com/2011/10/a-conve...) and a glowing Bookforum review (http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/018_...). Totally worth it.

This book is, first off, insane. Not in a screaming/straightjacket way but in the way absurd, hyper-logical satire inherently has to be. Brilliant-borderline-sick stuff. It would come off as dry if DeWitt weren't so adept with raunch and humor and the combination of the two. There is no quiet chuc...more
Matt
I really enjoyed this book, a very bizarre fantasia that I think got some really amazing early reviews, reviews that might have oversold the book a little.

The hook is definitely notable: a down on his luck door-to-door salesman repurposes his sexual fantasies as a product that can, he claims, deal with the aggressive sexual environment in the workplace. And the ideas that this spins off-- about gender, work, sex fantasies, etc, are all pretty deftly worked through here. On the level of ideas, th...more
Rachel Smalter Hall
The last time I wrote about “lightning rods,” we were talking counterrevolutionary icons in Marie Antoinette’s France. This is not that kind of lightning rod.

Helen DeWitt’s newest book has gotten juicy reviews, and with good reason. Because this is a family-friendly review, I’ll describe the plot as delicately as I can: a salesman tries selling Encyclopedia Britannica and Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and fails. Then he tries selling something a little more risqué -- “Lightning Rods” -- to small c...more
Edmund
Meh. Didn't approach living up to its blurbs ("uproarious" or "consistently funny") in my estimation. It wasn't a compelling satire on business motivational books or CEO thought processes so much as the heterosexism and misogyny of the corporate workplace... and not all that effective. Interesting effort but hardly "the most well-executed literary sex comedy in ages."
Keith
This is a satire and it's effectivness is the fact that the story is delivered in the most deadpan manner possible. It's definitely not a story for everyone, peruse the GoodRead reviews for evidence of that but for those that are not put off by the subject matter - a unique and peculiarly American method of reducing sexual harassment in the workplace- then I predict moments of laugh-out-loud humor. For those who might take offense I understand completely. Nevertheless, despite the risqué plot th...more
Matt Leibel
I can see there aren't a lot of 5 star reviews here, so I feel comfortable in saying this book is for the 1 reader in 1000 who is willing to take a chance on an audacious, deadpan satire.

(This will make more sense after you read it, which I think you should, because this book is the kind of Swiftian move that you don't really see being pulled off too often these days by people not named George Saunders. It is smart and weird and I think has things to say about sex and gender and business and po...more
David
Dewitt is a STAR. This book is hilarious, disturbing, and a pageturner. So different from her brilliant debut. That said, it's very different from her brilliant debut. She's definitely got interesting range. We'd all be better off if her name was the one being hyped to the heavens rather than the Franzens and Foers of the world.

Update: this book keeps me thinking. I like that. It made me laugh, and squirm, and then I still keep thinking about it days later. Dewitt puts forth some fine questions,...more
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Books on the Nigh...: Lightning Rods 6 53 Mar 09, 2012 04:49PM  
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110897
Helen DeWitt (born 1957 in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.) is a novelist.

DeWitt grew up primarily in South America (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador), as her parents worked in the United States diplomatic service. After a year at Northfield Mount Hermon School and two short periods at Smith College, DeWitt studied classics at the University of Oxford, first at Lady Margare...more
More about Helen DeWitt...
The Last Samurai Your Name Here Recovery (Electric Literature's Recommended Reading) n+1 Issue 12: Conversion Experience N+1 Issue 6: Mainstream

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“If you’re a salesman, you have to deal with yourself the way you are. Not how you’d like to be.

If you don’t have what it takes, you can waste a lot of time asking yourself “How can I get what it takes?” The question you should be asking yourself is, “Is there something else that takes what I have to offer?” Because if there’s something you can succeed at, just the way you are, you won’t have to waste a lot of time trying to change yourself. Which you’re never going to be able to do, anyway.”
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“The reason is that even in a fantasy there is nothing even remotely erotic about a toilet bowl. In fact, considered as an accoutrement to a sexual encounter, a toilet bowl is a real cold shower.” 2 likes
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