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“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, and at last strikes gold. His brainstorm, Lightning Rods, Inc., will take Joe to the very top — and to the very heart of corporate insanity — with an outrageous solution to ...
“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, and at last strikes gold. His brainstorm, Lightning Rods, Inc., will take Joe to the very top — and to the very heart of corporate insanity — with an outrageous solution to the spectre of sexual harassment in the modern office.
An uproarious, hard-boiled modern fable of corporate life, sex, and race in America, Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods brims with the satiric energy of Nathanael West and the philosophic import of an Aristophanic comedy of ideas. Her wild yarn is second cousin to the spirit of Mel Brooks and the hilarious reality-blurring of Being John Malkovich. Dewitt continues to take the novel into new realms of storytelling — as the timeliness of Lightning Rods crosses over into timelessness.
Like relationships, books can uncover knots in our psyches that might otherwise have remained obscured. Using myself as an example, I noticed that when speaking to friends about Helen DeWitt's Lightning Rods, the word "fun" leaped to mind but slipped out bashfully through my lips. To what extent a streak of literary Puritanism burns within me, I cannot fully compass. Admittedly, "fun" is not a word that I'm used to deploying in a review. Yet, there is no denying that DeWitt's third novel — an office satire about a plucky entrepreneur named Joe who transforms an erotic fantasy into the idea behind a multimillion-dollar company — is the most well executed literary sex comedy that I've come across in ages; just the thing to lighten a subway commute or add zest to a lunch break.
"We have to deal with people the way they are, not how we'd like them to be" is an adage that recurs throughout the book. And so Joe, a frustrated door-to-door salesman given to fantasizing about furtive sexual encounters, strikes upon the concept of helping businesses diffuse sexual tensions in the office through an ingenious system for anonymous assignations — a high-tech update of the glory hole. Joe sells his idea by appealing to his prospective clients' common sense:
Speaking as a businessman...I know that it is often the most valuable individuals in a company who present the greatest vulnerability to sexual harassment related issues. We know that a high level of testosterone is inseparable from the drive that produces results. Speaking of people as they are rather than as they should be I know that a high-testosterone-level individual has a high likelihood of being sexually aggressive; if the individual is working twenty-hour days as a driven results-oriented individual often does, that sexual aggression will find an outlet in the office...I have strong views on sexual harassment. I believe that those in a place of work who do not welcome sexual advances should not be subjected to them. I also believe that a man who is producing results in today's competitive market place has a right to be protected from potential undesirable side effects of the physical constitution which enables him to make a valued contribution to the company.DeWitt has a field day sending up the lingo of business culture. Somber topics like sexual harassment and the Equal Employment Opportunities Act collapse into stitches before her crisply turned out prose. Lightning Rods is A Modest Proposal for our sexually emancipated age. The only guilt involved in this pleasure will come to those who miss it.
Reviewer: Christopher Byrd
Posted May 10, 2013
I'd give this 0 stars, if that was an option. It's unfunny; poorly written; and she has no ear for how people speak. Or think. Or act.
Men can be weird, people have strange ideas -- generally those are things I enjoy in fiction. Here -- nothing was entertaining.
There was really only one character for as far as I could stand to read it -- about 60 pages. And I hated that guy -- but not nearly as much as I hated the writing and the premise.
As I said above, it lacks humor -- and given its subject, it's not erotic -- there's no narrative skill on display, no skill with words or plotting. It just stinks. Phew.
Give this one a total pass. I read this because it was part of a book tournament -- required reading. Someone writing a bad book doesn't upset me. Normally, I'd just stop reading. But putting this book up for any sort of award -- that's what offended me.
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Posted May 27, 2012
Basically, this is a novel about a guy who decides to put glory holes into offices as a way of reducing sexual frustration and thereby reduce sexual harassment. If this description sounds like something you'd be interested in reading, then you'll like the book. If it isn't, you won't.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2012
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