LIGHTNING RODS – HELEN DE WITT


I was really looking forward to her second novel with happy anticipation.  The wait has been a long one, since her marvellous The Last Samurai one of my fave books, which I have read at least three times, unusual for me. So I bought it at vast expense, on-line, and gloated over the hard-covered book (not available in paperback), and read it very swiftly – it’s not a long book.

Once I’d got over the shock of this outrageous, bizarre novel which – by the by – should be sold in a plain brown wrapper stamped, Age Restricted: 21 and over only, I realize I’m disappointed.  I know it’s unrealistic to expect a second novel to be a reprise of the first brilliant debut, but that said ….

The two novels could not be more dissimilar. Both in content and style. The first one told an unusual story peopled with quirky, interesting, sympathetic characters; I was spellbound from page 1. Rods has an arresting cover, with a bright blue background, and three sets of bright blue eyes (painted, not photographed) showing an expression of great surprise. Once you discover the contents, you realize why they look so startled.

In short, the book is a satire on modern American marketing and business methods, and the use of sex in the office environment, purveyed in a clinical, conveyor-belt manner, to male staff, the women serving as lightning rods for otherwise troublesome sexual energy which would – under normal circumstances – give rise to endless sexual harassment suits, low productivity etc. etc. The book has a sweetly reasonable tone which reports in a matter of fact way, the success of ex-vacuum cleaner salesman Joe who succeeds in launching, selling and succeeding with his crazy scheme.  It almost sounds like an anthropologist’s report on a sociological experiment, and less like an article from Playboy.

The dust jacket says that the book is irredeemably filthy and parts of it are – we’re full frontal with male fantasies, and some down to earth language and details on fornication.  But oddly, it also outlines in some detail how two former Lightning Rods go on to make glittering careers in the legal field and Supreme Court, all on their LR earnings.

On finishing the book I continued to feel flabbergasted at the theme and the plot – it is galaxies away from the first book and it’s hard toaccept that it was written by a woman . I deliberately didn’t read any reviews of the book mid-read, but will do so now and see what other readers had to say about it. It was much heralded when it appeared.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “LIGHTNING RODS – HELEN DE WITT

  1. jenny parsons

    Alison, we have it in our book club (I’m pretty sure in paperback) and I could not read it. I gave it a good try, and I don’t often bail on a book. I also battled with the fact that it was written by a woman. I found the theme very uncomfortable and I was relieved when I closed the book about half way through.

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    • I concur with your remarks; what shook me was the total departure from her first novel “The Last Samurai” which is a wonderful book. Mayb e she just wanted to write something totally different. She succeeded!

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