LIGHTNING RODS by Helen DeWitt

LIGHTNING RODS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

DeWitt’s offbeat debut (The Last Samurai, 2000) caused a stir, but this second novel, a satirical take on sexual harassment, misfires badly. 

Joe has tried selling encyclopedias and failed. Same for vacuum cleaners. He tells himself to get a grip. He’s in his 30s (that’s all we know about him) and is a manifest loser, but with the help of an expensive suit he turns his life around, persuading a company to try his concept of lightning rods. Bona-fide female staff members will provide occasional sexual services to male employees. They will be randomly selected through a computer program, and their anonymity protected. The point? To stave off sexual harassment lawsuits by providing relief. Sex-and-the-office entertainments have an impressive history, from Billy Wilder’s classic 1960 movie The Apartment to the current TV hit Mad Men, but these shows involve flesh-and-blood characters. DeWitt’s dubious premise is that harassment is caused solely by high testosterone levels; she excludes the urge to dominate. Just insert a panel opening in the Disabled Toilet, have the guy enter the “gal” from behind and voilà. Don’t expect any frissons from their contact. The first guy, DeWitt writes coyly, “availed himself of the facility.” But the “installation” works, and not just for Ed, the prime stud; the harassment ends, along with DeWitt’s powers of invention. After Joe has a chance meeting with a dwarf on an airport shuttle bus, DeWitt riffs on adjustable height toilets; there’s even a moment of toilet farce when the obese HR guy comes between Ed and his lightning rod. There are a few wrinkles (a black employee must be accommodated to prevent discrimination charges, the FBI must be mollified) but no drama in this lifeless work. Even when Joe invites his most free-spirited lightning rod home to his loft, there’s no action.

A dreary screed that too often reads like a primer for salesmen.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8112-1943-3
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2011




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