Helen DeWitt, Lightning Rods
Should be required for anyone who has ever worked in an office
After years spent slogging away as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, Joe gets an idea. Inspired by a baroque, erotic fantasy, he comes up with a way to improve the modern workplace, a way to simultaneously increase productivity and decrease sexual harassment. He sells his pitch — again and again — and soon enough, offices nationwide are furnished with “lightning rods,” anonymous prostitutes that are hidden behind bathroom stalls in specially-designed annexes. Male employees are relieved of built-up sexual tension, and the girls, who are already on staff — mostly as secretaries — receive a significant pay-raise. It seems like a win-win scheme until everything starts to fall apart. As Joe’s company grows, and is then imperiled, his own ego swells and recedes, accordingly. His hubris never dies, but we can see glimpses of the self-doubt, and then the necessary remedy of self-deceit.
Hyper-contemporary and artfully allegorical, Lightning Rods is a sprightly lampoon, full of corporate babble and technical jargon. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and unnervingly true. It’s exactly what we wanted — and expected — from Helen DeWitt, whose first critically-acclaimed novel, “The Last Samurai,” displayed a taste for the esoteric and a sympathy with the lonely genius. Dushko Petrovich’s narration exaggerates DeWitt’s humor without forsaking the seriousness of her satire. Lightning Rods should be required for anyone who has ever worked in an office, hatched a scheme, or suffered a boor — in short, everyone in America.