Fiction Lightening Rods

Published on September 12th, 2012


Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

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Blurb: All I want is to be a success. That’s all I ask.’ Failing salesman Joe has a dream – or rather an outrageous fantasy. Because holed up in his trailer Joe comes up with a jaw-dropping plan that will stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace and make his fortune. Win-win? As he turns his life around, Lightning Rods takes us to the very top of corporate America. (And Other Stories)

David Evans, The Financial Times

“… a comic masterpiece. It has been compared with George Orwell and Jonathan Swift, but I think DeWitt may have had in mind Benjamin Franklin – Franklin both invented the lightning rod and, with his autobiography, inaugurated the enduring American myth of the self-made man, who with a little ingenuity and resourcefulness can make a success of any idea. That myth is gleefully satirised in this uproarious, razor-sharp novel.”

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David Annand, The Telegraph

“As it moves inexorably onwards with the cold, hard logic of the free market, Lightning Rods gets ever funnier and more bizarre, its targets loftier and its analysis more acute. It seems at different points to be 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.”

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Anna Aslanyan, The Independent

“Whatever your political and moral principles, you are very likely to find the book hilarious as the writer leaves few bases uncovered – unmocked – while sticking to the golden rule of comedy: keep a straight face. The novel’s funniest passages resemble a cross between an HSSE guide and board-meeting notes.”

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Sam Byers, The TLS

“Written almost ten years ago but unpublished until now, Lightning Rods pre-empts many of American fiction’s recent achievements. There are touches here of Sam Lipsyte’s merciless humour; Nicholson Baker’s exploration of the point where smut meets art; even Padgett Powell’s assault on literary convention, The Interrogative Mood.”

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Jenny Turner, The Guardian

… Just as weird and narrow and mechanistic as it sounds – no wonder it has taken a decade to find a publisher. Though it’s also a tightly disciplined and extremely funny satire on office politics, sexual politics, American politics, and the art of positive thinking …

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Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

DeWitt, whose interest in languages was apparent in The Last Samurai, has adopted here the idiom of America’s pragmatic temper, and the story of Joe and his business plan shows how a fetish for common sense can make for silly, sleazy extremes. 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.

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Holly Williams, The Independent on Sunday

Helen DeWitt, who had an international hit with The Last Samurai, maintains a strong, clear, narrative voice throughout, pitch-perfectly parodying management speak, corporate culture and self-help bibles. Her new book prompts proper snorts at deadpan insights, audacious plot developments or particularly well-captured jargon … This is a satire on the jargon of justification, and it is tightly written within its tight limits. Admittedly, this means it can feel like an exercise in how far you can run with one joke – but it’s a joke delivered with masterful precision.

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