Bryan's Reviews > Lightning Rods

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
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's review
Feb 08, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: audio
Read in January, 2012

There is some high satire here but the droll delivery buries the punch. The reader Petrovich nails the tone DeWitt is going for but this makes it near unbearable to listen to-- imagine a corporate film narrator on barbiturates. The big joke comes way too early; i.e., Joe thinking to himself that big geniuses think genius thoughts even when they don’t know it, when really all he has done is figured out a way to monetize his own sexual fantasies. Not to mention what he does dream up is so nonsensical it undermines the foundations of the book. DeWitt overlooks a key aspect of male sexuality: its exacting specificity. What works for Joe doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else.

If it worked for me would I like this book more?

I’m more interested in the publisher Dreamscape Media. I had never listened to any of their books before. The print version of Lightning Rods was published by New Directions and frankly I was surprised they had titles popular enough to warrant a CD release. I guess it depends if someone wants to buy the rights. I can’t say anything bad about the quality of the production even if some of the choices about tone sort of shoot the book in the foot. According to Dreamscape’s website, this was an Editor’s Choice for 2011. I guess we know what works for that editor.

I still can’t give this book a totally negative review as I admire DeWitt’s attack on the corporate mindset and patriarchy in general. I admire her even more for being brave enough to frame that attack in a way that has so many possible interpretations. Maybe I am interpreting it wrong. Maybe DeWitt does think Joe, the failed encyclopedia and vacuum salesman, is a big genius. I prefer something with a little more teeth. Lightning Rods makes me miss the quasi-experimental malaise of Richard Yates .

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