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Lightning Rods

3.31  ·  Rating Details ·  1,275 Ratings  ·  302 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 ...more
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published October 5th 2011 by New Directions
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The Art of Fielding by Chad HarbachThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittThe Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey EugenidesState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
2012 Tournament of Books
14th out of 16 books — 266 voters
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern1Q84 by Haruki MurakamiThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenThe American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Best Cover Art 2011 (Non-YA)
144th out of 291 books — 1,642 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan 25, 2015 Fionnuala rated it liked it  ·  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
Mike Puma
Oct 24, 2011 Mike Puma rated it really liked it

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

Dec 19, 2011 Lee rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2013 Maureen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Joey Comeau
May 31, 2012 Joey Comeau rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 15, 2012 Sam rated it really liked it
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
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

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
Big cleaning time!
Kept coming back to this one but today finally decided to admit defeat and wipe it out from my memory. Sometimes you just have to.
Julie Ehlers
Mar 07, 2015 Julie Ehlers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Reading this novel was a wild experience. On the one hand, the book takes an exceedingly bleak view of human nature. The male characters are mostly frightfully misogynist, and the ones that aren't still seem able to rationalize anything, even behavior and points of view most of us would consider abhorrent. The female characters are bafflingly retro: not one of them sees sex as anything but a chore, and very few of them ("one in a thousand") seem to possess real intelligence and aspirations ...more
Justin Evans
May 09, 2012 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Mar 18, 2012 Peter rated it liked it
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
Jul 03, 2012 Judy rated it really liked it

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
Apr 04, 2012 Prometheus rated it really liked it
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
Feb 19, 2012 christa rated it really liked it
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
Gabriel C.
Sep 19, 2013 Gabriel C. rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013, nikki
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
Josh Friedlander
Jul 26, 2015 Josh Friedlander rated it really liked it
Very different fare from The Last Samurai. Part satire of corporate America, part surreal Horatio Alger tale, Lightning Rods pivots on a horny failed salesman who finds a way to adapt his sexual fantasies into a business model. Funny and likable enough to sustain its strange conceit - I finished this in one shortish plane ride. Having spent a few tortuous years in business school, I know how close to the truth its cranky social psychology really is.
May 19, 2016 Elaine rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
A competently written clever satire (once you get past the ick factor of offices providing women to have faceless sex through holes in the bathroom wall in order to avoid sexual harassment suits). However, there was about 50 pages of material here and the novel loses its piquancy as well as its power to shock long before it's over. The last few chapters in particular felt meandering and slapdash and the novel just sort of peters out.
Feb 18, 2012 Joshua rated it really liked it
This book is pretty out of hand, and I mean that as a total compliment. I want to go out to dinner with Helen DeWitt and pick her mesmerizing brain. She's an utter original, and how often do you really get to say that?
Jan 31, 2013 A.M. rated it really liked it
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
Feb 25, 2012 jess rated it it was ok
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
Olga Zilberbourg
Sep 09, 2014 Olga Zilberbourg rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 08, 2012 Judith rated it really liked it
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 ...more
David Hebblethwaite
Feb 19, 2013 David Hebblethwaite rated it really liked it
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
Rachel Smalter Hall
Dec 16, 2011 Rachel Smalter Hall rated it really liked it
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
Alison Smith
Apr 03, 2012 Alison Smith rated it did not like it
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
Andy Pronti
Sep 22, 2016 Andy Pronti rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I only read the first 50 pages of this one but I really don't like it. I don't get it. How do you go from writing The Last Samurai ( one of my favorite books) to writing this?
Jun 01, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it
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
Aug 28, 2012 Diana rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 13, 2011 Karl rated it it was amazing
Picked this up after work today because of an interview on The Awl ( and a glowing Bookforum review ( 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
Dec 13, 2014 Adam rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
Heard about this satire on Slate, and I'm sure if you read the description you'll see that the concept holds possibility.

And basically fails to deliver on it. The concept is the joke, and that's about the only one it has. And it's a pretty shallow joke anyhow, because it misidentifies the cause of sexual harassment in the first place. Maybe the author gets that joke and that's a meta-layer. But it didn't come through to me that way.

Besides that, the writing is interminable, with the characters
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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
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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.”
“[...] and unfortunately most women did not seem to have the same urges. Or if they did, they wouldn't admit it. They probably didn't, anyway. But if they did they wouldn't admit it.” 2 likes
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