Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Lightning Rods

Title: Lightning Rods
Author: Helen DeWitt
Publisher: New Directions
Date Published: October 5, 2011
Pages: 275

How I Heard About It: Blake Butler's live reading, courtesy of HTML Giant.

Two Sentence Summary:

Ne'er-do-well salesman Joe decides to try his luck with a product of his own invention, the "lightning rod system."  Born of his frustrated sexual fantasies, the ups and downs of Lightning Rods, Inc. are an exploration in just how much people are willing to accept, how morally flexible people are willing to be, and what we're willing to do to be a great success.

Things I Think: 

 "One of the things that's perennially fascinating about the world is the way people sell things to themselves." (29)

This book definitely falls into the category of fiction in which the narrator's thought process is paramount to the plot itself.  Truly, the reader experiences this book from within the deepest machinations of Joe's brain, privy to each synaptic connection as instantly as it occurs.  DeWitt reveals herself as a great rhetorician in this, her latest, novel.  Her exploration of the brain's capacity to rationalize (failure, moral compromise, personal shortcomings) is not only believable but poignant due to the intimate perspective the reader is allowed.

"One day, you're going to wake up and find you sold away the only life you were ever going to get for the sake of the bottom line.  Well, there's only so much money you can spend in this life, and the thing you've got to remember is, the one thing you can't buy back, no matter how much money you have, is time.  A billion dollars won't buy back one single minute." (238)

"Lightning Rods" reminds me of Nicholson Baker's "Vox" or "Fermata," with all of its sexual quirkiness, but overall it is more notably an intellectual look at how physical drive plays a part (or not) in the American vision of success.  Through the lens of one man's fantasies, DeWitt has created a complex commentary on American culture that touches on topics of gender, race and economic status, to name a few.  Moreover, the characters are frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious, a difficult feat in a book so rife with intricate thought processes.  So glad I started the New Year with this fantastic read!

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