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3.2 out of 5 stars13
3.2 out of 5 stars
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 September 2012
Joe is an unsuccessful door-to-door salesman, spending his days in a trailer finessing a sexual fantasy about a woman whose naked bottom half is on one side of a wall and her fully clothed top half on the other. In a flash of genius Joe sees a way of turning this fantasy into a business proposition, one which will reduce sexual harassment and increase morale in the workplace.

"Lightning Rods" is a strange and very funny book. The central premise is ridiculous but DeWitt tells her story in a deadpan way allowing all the corporate-speak to give it a sheen of mundanity. Like Joe, DeWitt has thought through all the permutations and repercussions of this new business and there is a lot of fun in how various characters react to the situation. Although the idea of 'lightning rods' is repulsive the book glows with tenderness and humanity (Joe's proudest achievement, for example, is rolling out 'height-friendly facilities' in toilets across America). I had a big smile on my face while reading this novel and I am still smiling now thinking about it.

"Lightning Rods" was published last year in the US where it received good reviews, I'd been wanting to read it for a while so was delighted to see that And Other Stories were publishing the UK edition, as you get the bonus of a beautifully presented paperback.
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VINE VOICEon 21 July 2013
This joins the few novels like 'The Dice Man' and 'Fight Club' which explore ideas which seem outrageous but also within the realms of possibility. It concerns Joe, a seemingly born-to-be salesman, who while trying to sell vacuum cleaners has an idea to turn his particular sexual fantasy into a reality. He sets out to create 'Lightning Rods' and persuading business people to take on his idea as a way to defuse sexual tension and harassment in the office.

Written in a mix of salesman patter, self-help manuals and marketing speak this captures corporate America perfectly and the fear and paranoia over people being people when confined for up to eight hours a day in the same place together - especially mixing the male and female - like rabbits the tendency will be towards pro-creation but laws and 'morality' try to stifle this, thus creating tension thus needing lightning rods to defuse it. Most of the ideas in the novel work by circular self-fulfilling arguments.

Some people will see this as a satire but, and David Flusfeder, in his introduction, explains why this isn't a satire (it is almost worth buying the novel just for the introduction), but almost an ultra-modern comedy of manners and how anyone can be sold on anything if it is presented in the right way.

A near perfect novel which brings your faith back to the pleasures of reading and reminds you why you do it in the first place.
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on 6 December 2012
I've been eagerly awaiting more from Helen DeWitt since her tour-de-force debut The Last Samurai (still one of my all-time favourites)

Lightning Rods was very different but certainly didn't disappoint. Great imagination, great characters and lovely, compelling prose. The topic could have been a bit salacious and grubby, but the way she handles it is thought-provoking in the style of the best satire.

More please, Helen!
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on 19 June 2013
Joe is a failed Encyclopedia Britannica salesman, now failing to sell vacuum cleaners. He spends a lot of time in his trailer, somewhere in Florida, cultivating extravagantly detailed sexual fantasies. As a direct result of such intellectual meanderings he hits on the idea of a corporate `glory-holes', where highfliers can release their sexual tensions anonymously with volunteer female staffers (the lightning rods of the title) from Joe's employment agency, who are paid a premium for their efforts. The stated aim of the invention is to not only improve the efficiency of the highfliers, but to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace and the associated costs to the corporation. The facilities are installed in the underused washrooms for the disabled. After a slow start, the idea catches on, and Joe becomes a very successful business man. As his business empire expands, he catches the attention of the FBI who make their own use of the scheme...

The work is extremely amusing, intelligent and, through DeWitt's remarkable voice, highly seductive. It is not too difficult to draw comparisons with ATLAS SHRUGGED, THE DICEMAN, ANTIC HAY and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Obviously, LIGHTNING RODS can't kick off any craze in the way the DICEMAN did and does, but it is it is an arrow into the heart of Corporation USA in much the same way as AMERICAN PSYCHO was. It certainly packs the philosophical punch of the named works.

It is essentially the story of product development and corporate expansion. It could almost be a text book of such. The development of the product and growth of Joe's empire is the plot. It is almost a satire of `how to' books about sales and business manuals. It really is something of a masterpiece: authoritative and hilarious on every page. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to DeWitt's previous work, except to the extent it is very, very clever.

It's not perfect though. When you get over the one joke, it really does become the story of product development, and I really wanted more transformation in the character of Joe, but to some extent the necessity of single minded application to the task of becoming successful is one of the themes and the tragedy is that Joe remains a sad, lonely character throughout. Nothing really happens in the final third of the book and I needed a little more. Joe's sexual fantasies take up a lot of the first third, and nothing replaces them towards the end.

ATLAS SHRUGGED, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW and AMERICAN PSYCHO are books that many begin substantially fewer actually complete, but LIGHTNING RODS is a lot shorter than them. Nonetheless, I was insufficiently engaged in `what will happen next' by the end. By the end, I have a vaguely feeling that I may have been preached to.

Criticisms notwithstanding, this is spectacularly original and enjoyable read. It feels like a real classic. It is a book that will be irresistible to pass on and talk about. It has depth, style, originality and a lot of laughs. I hope it does very well.
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on 21 March 2015
A brilliant take on corporate misogyny. The prose is flawless, the characterisation really good. Joe's casual misogyny, his shallowness and his lack of insight into himself is really well drawn. The talented women in the book, the lawyers, the budding CEOs, who want to get to the top in a still male-dominated world know they literally have to 'get screwed' in order to do so and this is their compromise in order to succeed. De Witt slyly depicts the way in which something so outrageous as Joe's lightning rods 'product' can become normalised. And there are plenty of real world examples of stuff that is unfair, unjust, unethical and yet the norm. The ending felt a little flat but to be honest how does one end a novel like this anyway? I found myself irate so many times as I read it at the antics of Joe and his ilk. I kept having to remind myself that a woman wrote this and she wrote it for a reason. The only downside is its hard to not be slightly embarrassed at recommending it to friends as it is a bit raunchy. I suspect a book like this will become 'cult' for all the wrong reasons.
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on 22 April 2014
Crazy subject matter. I was enthuralled... most entertaining, some what strange, definately original. Very enjoyable. Try it, you too will like it.
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on 21 January 2014
Maybe not everyones type of book but I quite liked it
Does anyone have a book to recomend to me on prime? Thanks in advance.
L xx
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 November 2012
Joe starts this novel as an unsuccessful seller of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in MIssouri. He moves to a job selling vacuum cleaners in the nearest Electrolux office. That's in Florida. 'Asked to name a state that's close to Missouri, very few people come up with Florida; those few tend to change their minds when they look at a map. Which just goes to shows how easy it is to be misled by our assumptions'. But as the narrator goes on to point out it's important to give a new job your all and 'you may well find yourself with some debts which it would be distracting to deal with at this time'. So Florida turns out to be 'the nearest Electrolux office that would enable Joe to meet his needs'.

If this vignette from the very opening of the novel appeals, you will probably enjoy it all. It's consistently inventive, and the tone of voice is unique. And we see right into the heart and mind of the successful sales person, as he develops a fantasy into a reality and sells that reality to others....The plot does not particularly stack up - but the internal logic is strong and we can see how one thing just leads on to another - and each thing it leads on to is calculated to amuse.
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on 4 June 2013
This is a satire, which as a concept was good but I struggled to actually find it funny. It reminded me of Mel Brooks who I don't get on with too well either and when there was an acknowledgement to him at the end it was not a big surprise. The second half with all the repercussions of the main concept was entertaining.
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on 10 November 2013
Made me wonder how Helen went about finding the material to portray a man's sexual urges in such logical detail. A fantasy became a fact in a lavatory!
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