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Lightning Rods


Lightning Rods is Helen DeWitt’s merrily demented satire of the obtuse sexual politics of American corporate culture. Brazen, outrageous, and—the key to good satire—just plausible enough to give it the bite of truth. It made me cringe; it made me blush; but mainly it made me laugh. This week, I read Lightning Rods again, and was struck by the degree to which it seems, in our post-Harvey Weinstein world, where each day brings new revelations of egregious male misbehavior, like a work of credible realism. DeWitt’s novel will still make you laugh until you cry.

— The New Yorker

The long-awaited second novel by the author of The Last Samurai.

Helen DeWitt’s follow-up to her critically accalimed debut novel The Last Samurai arrives with a bang, ready to take on the complex issues surrounding sexual tension in the workplace with a wicked dose of satire and humor.

Joe is a down-and-out salesman who spends most of his time sitting around his trailer in Florida fantasizing about women. But one afternoon a particularly strange fantasy turns into a life-changing epiphany. Suddenly he knows how to curtail sexual harassment in the office and increase productivity. His solution? Sexual lightning rods: women who, via a carefully constructed system of anonymity and strict protection, provide “sexual release” for alpha-male employees. As unlikely to succeed as it seems, Joe has finally found a product he can sell with boundless enthusiasm, and he simply refuses to fail, no matter what the obstacles. And of course he encounters quite a few of those on his rise through corporate America.

Lighting Rods is DeWitt at her finest, offering a mesmerizing blend of social commentary and jaw-dropping humor, all with a philosophic approach that takes modern storytelling into new realms of possibility.


The most well-executed literary sex comedy in ages.

— Salon

An absurdist comedy of the American workplace and the indignities faced by employees in today’s turbo-capitalism, a quietly seething feminist critique of pornography and the commodification of women, and a category-defying fable about the meaninglessness of success.

— David Annand, The Telegraph

DeWitt maintains a strong, clear, narrative voice throughout, pitch-perfectly parodying management speak, corporate culture and self-help bibles.

— The Independent

A razor-sharp comic masterpiece.

— The Financial Times

A tightly disciplined and extremely funny satire on office politics, sexual politics, American politics, and the art of positive thinking.

— The Guardian

[Helen DeWitt] tunes into the contemporary American idiom and its corporate-speak with perfect pitch.

— The Rumpus

This is excellent: cold and crazy…The jokes are like hammers.

— The New Yorker

DeWitt is a brutal humorist…uproariously funny.

— The Wall Street Journal

Lightning Rods is an exercise in novel as extrapolation. It’s an appealingly practical way to think about writing fiction, and one that ignores any distinction between realism and fantasy.

— The New York Observer

The basic premise for Lightning Rods is so audacious that it might be hard to get past its general conceit, but its true brilliance lies in DeWitt’s careful deployment of language so common that we no longer see it. As any million-dollar litigation lawyer or two-cent literary critic will tell you, the devil is in the details.

— Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times Book Review

It so emphatically aces the tasks it sets for itself, and delivers such a jolt of pleasure along the way, that it reminds me of just how major a minor work can be… At any rate, as one of her endearingly flummoxed characters might say, I literally cannot wait to see what she does next.

— Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions

DeWitt’s wickedly smart satire deserves to be a classic.

— Bookforum

Helen DeWitt shocks the reader with her intelligence. Lightning Rods, an exploration of the collective Id, is as lucid, methodical, and elegantly argued as a mathematical proof. It is also unremittingly filthy. DeWitt begins with a premise and goes on to think everything thinkable about it. A weird, generous, hilarious marvel.

— Teju Cole, Open City

In Lightning Rods, the nonpareil Helen DeWitt has written a hilarious and pretty near perfect novel about…well, about selling and sex and the sound of the stories we tell ourselves, and of the stories we tell ourselves about the stories we tell ourselves, and of the stories we sell to others to help them have another story to sell to themselves, and about…did I mention sex? Lightning Rodsis a strange and ingenious and happy-about-the-state-literature-making book.

— Rivka Galchen, Atmospheric Disturbances


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