Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Lightning Rods” as Want to Read:
Lightning Rods
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Lightning Rods

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,384 Ratings  ·  310 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
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Lightning Rods, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Lightning Rods

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Sep 28, 2012 added 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
Sep 26, 2011 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

Oct 06, 2011 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 h
Dec 25, 2011 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
Dec 24, 2011 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 dischar ...more
Dec 15, 2012 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
Julie Ehlers
Dec 13, 2014 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 beyon ...more
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
Justin Evans
May 09, 2012 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
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.
Mar 11, 2012 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
Jun 18, 2012 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 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 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 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
Aug 06, 2014 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 13, 2016 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.
Dec 31, 2011 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?
May 19, 2012 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 08, 2012 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
Oct 07, 2012 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 of ...more
Feb 08, 2012 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 o ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010s
Something of a disappointment next to The Last Samurai, this is a book that aims at being outrageous but only gets to squalid. Stylized in a curmudgeon's best guess at the language in which people in business talk and think, it is rather graceless on the page.
David Hebblethwaite
Feb 19, 2013 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
Nov 24, 2011 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 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
Jun 01, 2012 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
Ian Scuffling
Perhaps the victim of high expectations--DeWitt, afterall, is the author of one of the best books of the 21st century: The Last Samurai. This comic novel's humor is the kind that makes you breathe out through your nose a little bit while reading while pops and bubbles of hearty chuckles burble up to the surface here and there. Overall, it is funny and full of ironic, wry humor that hallmarks good satire. However, because the laser-focus of the premise and procedural nature of the narrative, the ...more
Oct 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 28, 2012 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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Books on the Nigh...: Lightning Rods 6 61 Mar 09, 2012 04:49PM  
  • The Last Brother
  • Maidenhead
  • Spurious
  • Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico
  • The Fan-Maker's Inquisition: A Novel of the Marquis de Sade
  • My Sister's Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles
  • Altmann's Tongue: Stories and a Novella
  • Fever Chart
  • The Abyss of Human Illusion
  • Motorman
  • An Elemental Thing
  • The Melancholy of Anatomy
  • The Great Frustration
  • Who Are You?
  • Next
  • The Curfew
  • Hôtel Splendid (European Women Writers)
  • Ava
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 about Helen DeWitt...
“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
More quotes…