Peter's Reviews > Lightning Rods

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
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Mar 11, 2012

liked it
Read from March 11 to 18, 2012

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 the workplace where this guy invents a system whereby Lightening Rods have sex with high-performing employers in order to keep them from sexually harassing other women?
Wife: So they hire prostitutes?
Me: Well sort of. But not really. The Lightening Rods actually work in the companies doing other things, like secretarial work. The system is totally anonymous.
Wife: How?
Me. Well. Basically, they stick their asses through a wall in the handicapped bathroom.
Wife: Why are you laughing? That sounds horrible.
Me: I guess. But the book has this nonchalant tone that makes all of this funny somehow. It's obviously a terrible thing, but the combination of the satire and convincing quality of the argument makes you feel complicit somehow. It's weird. Sometimes I really think it's funny. And, other times, when I stop to think what's actually happening, I feel like a monster for laughing. Then I think about this guy I knew who worked for the Japanese stock exchange who had to take his clients to strip clubs whenever they came into town. It was almost similar to this. When the big guns visit the office, you reward them with sex in some form. I'm sure escorts were involved sometimes. We're closer to this kind of thing than you think.
Wife: Want to walk out on that dock?
Me: Sure.
Wife: I don't understand how women could have sex with someone through a wall and then just got back to work.
Me: Yeah. It's weird. I guess I don't either. Some of them are kind of traumatized.
Wife: I don't think I would like this book.
Me: You might not.
Wife: And why do these high-earners need this sexual release? I don't get the correlation?
Me: According to the book, they're the ones most likely to harass women and get the company sued. They're impulsive and overly confident. It's satiric.
Me: The first 100 pages were really good. But I'm getting a little bored of the thought experiment. Still, I'm kind of amazed that the author made this wild plot device fly. I wonder what I would think if a man had written this?
Wife: Should that make a difference?
Me: I don't know. Should it?
Wife: There aren't very many fathers out here with their kids today.
Me: Yeah, just a couple.
Wife: So are you going to finish the book?
Me: Uh huh.
Wife: I can't tell if you actually like it.
Me: Me neither. Honestly I thought it would be sexier. All the reviews I read made it sound like a book about sex. But it's really not. It's a book about corporate culture and sexual harassment more than sex. It's probably one of the un-sexiest books I've read. In fact, it's kind of hard to imagine what the sex would actually be like.
Me: Look at those ducks swimming in that freezing water. They look so calm.
Wife: Yeah.
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message 1: by Carlye (new)

Carlye Novak That was really enjoyable. I'm glad you're reading this book, simply because I got to virtually witness that exchange.

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