cover image Lightning Rods

Lightning Rods

Helen Dewitt. New Directions, $24.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1952-5

A vacuum-cleaner salesman hits on a tasteless business plan to allow working men a sexual release at the office in this perversely surreal second novel by Dewitt (The Last Samurai). Joe doesn’t have what it takes to sell Electrolux in Eureka, Fla., but inspiration strikes in the form of a sexual fantasy involving bottomless women viewed through a hole in a wall. Since Joe believes that human nature can’t be contained, even in an office, he establishes a startup that offers to establish a monetized glory hole in any office, wherein a secretarial pool of “lightning rods” have anonymous sex through the wall of an office’s disabled bathroom. Lightning rods are carefully selected, well paid, protected from discovery and abuse; their services offer a useful “release for any pent-up physical needs,” boost performance, and suppress absenteeism, and allow Joe to sidestep issues of sexual harassment. Joe secures several top-drawer morally expedient and aspirational “gals” like Lucille, later a successful litigation lawyer, and future Supreme Court Justice Renee, and finds his innovative employment agency taking off in a big way. Dewitt’s parody of the corporate model is so resolutely poker-faced and mirthless that it simply feels deadly. (Oct.)